SIMPLE - Submitting to and Supporting the Mission of the Church
This past month, Simple's founder met with Leo Sabo to record a heartfelt audio episode from the Christian Stewardship Nework.
Leo: Welcome to the stewardship leader podcast, brought to you by the Christian Stewardship Network. CSN exists to encourage teach and connect church and stewardship leaders to help them create and Lead healthy stewardship Ministries in their church. You can learn more about CSN at christianstewardshipnetwork.com
Leo: Well hey everyone, welcome to Stewardship Leader! I'm your host, Leo Sabo, and today I have the pleasure of having Taylor Brooks, the founder and CEO of Simple, a company that provides tools for churches such as online giving, event registration payments, donor analytics, and corporate card programs. He was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, attended Auburn University, and moved to Texas in 2010, after which he started Simple in 2012. He's been married for 14 years and has three children. And for fun he likes to play tennis, something I really enjoy. He also reads old books and listens to old music. Sounds like he's an old soul. Hey Taylor, thank you so much for being with us today and taking the time to share your story.
Taylor: My pleasure Leo, it's great to be here. Well, you guys are partners with CSN and I want to highlight that because we really really encourage our community of listeners and our community of stewardship leaders to connect with our partners. Because the reason we have partners is because we know that CSN is not called to do everything and we're not equipped to do everything. So we partner with organizations that serve the church, especially in the area of stewardship and generosity.
Leo: And you guys do that so well. In fact, we're going to talk about some of the changes that have happened at Simple recently. I'm really looking forward to sharing that with our audience, but let's start first of all with your personal stewardship story. Would you share that with us?
Taylor: Sure. You know, thankfully I grew up in a Christian home and I had stewardship modeled for me really well. My grandfather owned a small business and my parents were business owners. And also, I went to a Christian School where I just had a lot of men and people around me that were really good stewards with what was in front of them. I can remember as a young kid, you know, going on long trips with my grandfather and seeing how he would use his time and resources and money to give gifts and spend time with a lot of people. Even going along just for conversations with people who perhaps weren't from our same faith background. My grandfather was really interested what people's stories were. I remember one time he pulled me aside and said, "You know, everybody has a story to tell, everybody has something to teach you," and that really has stuck with me. In high school, again thankfully, whereas a lot of my peers perhaps were hanging out with friends or doing sports and whatnot, my dad's friends actually spent a lot of time with me and so I'm thankful for that. They have invested in my life and have become really good friends and I've known some of these men for 25 years. If you had asked me perhaps a couple years ago what my stewardship story was, I may have given like a money focused answer like, "I tithe, and what does it mean to be responsible with my finances". And I think that is a good portion of stewardship. But also, just the notion that these men and these people have used their time in discipling me and kind of taking along and teaching me. So my stewardship story has kind of been more encompassing and broad in the sense that now I'm running a small business, I've got a team that I'm responsible for. I feel like a steward in that. Like, how do I use this company for the glory of God? How do I invest in my employees and our customers? And my family, how do I use this time wisely? Because we don't have that much time here on this earth. And so yeah, I'd say that's kind of my personal stewardship story. I'm still learning, thankfully to go into places like CSN, I feel like I've opened up a door and kind of peeking into like a whole new world. So, I'm a work in progress.
Leo: Well thank you so much for sharing that story. I do see such a benefit to you that you've had this influence in your life. Not just from your grandfather, but from your parents and of course from the men that you mentioned, people that your parents and your grandfather was in business with. And I think being drawn to that, obviously has led you to where you are. And I know you and I have had some conversations and you mentioned once this desire that you had. Which is, you were called to the marketplace, but also to serve in the church. I think that's very unique for people who are called to the marketplace. That it's not just a marketplace. They still have a kingdom heart right? They're Christians and they want to build the kingdom of God. But their role is just not called to be serving in the church. Meaning, they're not going to be a pastor, they're not going to be a life group leader as a "this is what I do in the church." Their mission field is in the marketplace. I think that's a calling from God, I really do believe that. I've met many business people when I was a stewardship pastor that felt kind of conflicted. They said "You know, I feel like I'm drawn to build business, to make money, to provide jobs and resources for people. But I also have this heart to be in ministry and sometimes I feel like should I sell my business and go into ministry?" And I would say, no! You are a ministry, you're just in a different area. You're talking to people that may never come to church on a regular, you know just by by thinking, "oh, maybe I should go to church". To them it may never occur to go to church, but if they meet someone like you, then that may draw them toward God and may help them to see Jesus for who he really is. And I know I see that in you, that you do have a desire to help people understand it. To understand not just stewardship, but really understand what it means to be a follower of Christ.
So let's switch gears a little bit. Thank you for sharing that, but let's switch gears a little bit, about what you do at Simple. How did you start that, why did you start it?
Taylor: I guess I could say I'm still trying to figure out what I do. I'm just kind of pulling the thread. You know, Simple really started by accident. It was not an intentional business per se. I'm a programmer, I'm a software engineer by trade. I actually love it, there's nothing that motivates me more than kind of putting on my headphones and coding for eight hours on end. Which if you've probably spent time with me, you're like that seems really out of character. But back to how Simple started, I got roped into a website redesign for the church I was at about 10 or 13 years ago. And I, along with a designer, were responsible for transitioning the website from one kind of content management system to a new one. And like most projects do, it turned into "Hey, well if we do this, then we do this, and if we do this, then it makes sense to do this." And sure enough you've turned over every piece of technology. So everything was on the table, email marketing, kids check in, online giving, etc. And I had a particular bone to pick with online giving. It was the system that we were using at the time, you had to log in or create an account to give, and it was just laborious. It was a very laborious process and I thought, "Why is it so easy to check out on Amazon? Like I can one click and get stuff delivered to me within like 36 hours or even faster than that. But it's so hard to give to my church." And that led to basically wanting to buy something. Like what tools are out there on the market that we can just go check out and embed and put on the website? Nothing really fit the bill. So again, being a engineer by trade, I thought, "I think I can just build it". So I built something bespoke just for our church, and then just kind of dusted my hands off and said "That's that." Meantime I'm working a normal job and I'm brandly new married, found out we're pregnant at this time, and trying to also create something on the side to support the family. And it wasn't until six months after I had created this software for the church, that some of the church staff were like, "Hey, you know there's a lot of churches in our network that are reaching out to us. And saying 'What are you guys using? Like that looks interesting and unique and we think we could use it too.'" And so they said, "Have you thought about turning this into something broader, where more than our church can use it, and it can be perhaps a business?" And it was like an anvil on top of my head. I was like, "Oh man, here it is staring me straight in the face." And so, that's really the genesis of Simple. From that point on, it's just been..."How can we serve? What can we build to really help? How can we create time savings for not just givers, but also church staff?" And it's been a really, it's been a really fun ride. I, again I don't feel like I know what I'm doing. But I feel like my team is great, I'm having a lot of fun, and to your point...I do feel like this is a calling. It does feel like I'm in my sweet spot. Like, I'm being able to use my gifts and talents to honor and glorify God. And it's just, I'm very thankful for where I'm at now because it's just a really fun time. And I feel like we're providing good value to the the churches that we work with.
Leo: Yeah well, I would agree with that. You said something about your team, that you have a great team. And I would definitely agree to that, as I've gotten to know especially some of the key people in your organization. Yeah, you guys get it, you understand what this is about. This is to you, it's not just...hey we provide a product, we try to give the best value, and it's all about the numbers, it's all about the product. What you guys do, and I'll let you dig into this a little deeper. But what you do and the way you approach it, I really appreciate it. So tell me about that, because you mentioned how the resource, the platform, that your church was using was inadequate. How is Simple different? And when you built it, and I know this is part of your DNA, but when you built it, what did you think or what was your motivation, and what did you want to do that's different? And how how is it different? Because I think that's an important distinction that people need to understand.
Taylor: In a lot of ways there's not that much different product wise. I mean, you process a card payment from Visa, and then you put it in the church's bank account. You process an ACH, and you put in the church's bank account. So there's a lot that's actually common across what you might consider our competitors. And what I think is perhaps different, is perhaps two things. Number one, I'm most concerned about finding what's the best fit for the church. So we take a really consultative approach to that. When we're talking to an organization that has a need for a donation software, we really try to dig in and figure out what are the problems that you're facing? Are we the best provider to solve them? And if we're not, we want to get you to the right place. And sometimes that may mean not working with us and that's okay. So I think that might be a little bit different. I think also, I tend to think about things on a very long time horizon. Not just, and I don't want to disparage any competitors that are institutionally backed or funded by outside investors. I think there is, I think capitalism works and I think it's good to have capital markets, and to have that. I think in this space it does get a little funny and a little weird, the incentives can get misaligned. But I really don't want to disparage people that are in finance, corporate finance. But I would say, having a closely held business that focuses on the long term - and when I say long term, I'm not talking about a difference from quarter to quarter meaning year to year. I'm thinking, eternal difference. Like, if it's true that we're created in the image of God, and that we are eternal beings, and that we are supposed to glorify Him in all that we do, that changes everything. It changes the way that you serve your customers, it changes the way that you hire, it changes the way that you build product. It just literally changes everything. And so with that eternal perspective in mind, because someday I won't be running this company. Someday I won't be programming. Someday I'll have to account for the time, how we spent our time, and to how we used our resources. And there's a healthy fear with that! That can be scary. Thankfully we have a gracious God, and I'm in the here and now. And we can, it's really fun to think through how can we use what's in front of us to actually glorify and serve. And kind of fulfill this kind of cultural mandate in honoring God in everything that we do. So I think that perhaps is different and I don't want to change that. I really want to operate this for a very very long time. I don't have a quote unquote exit strategy. I'm not looking to turn this thing into cash out. A great life for me would be kind of shepherding this company to the end of my career. Who knows? Perhaps passing it on to kids, if they find a proclivity to it. And hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" I think that's what we all want. We all want to hear, "You used what I gave you well." And so, that's what drives me and I think that may be a little different from others.
Leo: Yeah, that's good. Yeah, I love that. I love what you just shared because it really does speak to the heart of the mission that you guys have. Which is really just to serve and provide what a church needs. And I've heard both you and some of your teammates say this, that you're not for everybody. Sometimes a church needs something different and that's okay. But if they come your way, you're going to talk with them, you're going to give them what they need or you're going to give them the advice that's best for them. Even if that means that you don't end up partnering with them. You also mentioned something in there about not wanting to cash out. So, you told me one time when we were talking, in the worst thing that can happen to you is if Simple was bought out. Explain what you mean by that.
Taylor: There's a lot of things that can happen. The worst - I don't know if it'd be the worst. It could be the worst, I may have said the worst. I don't want to challenge you on that. I probably said worst. But I really do think that if you read Scripture. And I'm new at this, so I'm new in the sense that, I'm learning about stewardship through CSN. But I do believe that the biggest risk to following Jesus is the idol of Mammon, and is the idol of money. Of course I'm not saying that money is all bad and that people who have money are bad or that they are prone to idol worship. Not saying that. I'm just saying, I love how Andy Crouch says that money is essentially stored power and if you have a big truckload of money, you kind of have a lot of stored power. And it's very easy to go, "Well I don't really need Jesus, because I've got the comforts of this world." That's a dangerous place to be. So I think that, I think that's one of the ways it could be the worst thing. I would essentially lose my soul if we sold out. I think also, I really do feel like, I'm not just paying word service to it. I really do feel like it's a calling and if I don't, if I abandon my calling, what do I do? Yeah, like, I literally don't know what I would do. All my ideas and all the things that I want to do are helping churches proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I suppose I would find something to do. The team would find something to do. But the goal has never been to, you know, build an asset and turn it into cash. The goal has been, how do I use my talent to help the church in this one particular way? And I'm just continuing to do that and I'm trying to get our team to continue to do that. How do we help the local church and partner with the local church in their mission? There's all sorts of other things too with money. There's, kind of an aside, there's a great Reddit thread where it says "What's the worst thing that someone can ever say to you?" And it's like, "Congratulations, you just won the lottery!" And it was kind of like, this contrarian like, well how is that the worst thing? And there's all these statistics on, you know you're 20 times more likely to be a homicide victim, you're more likely to have drug overdose, you're more likely to go bankrupt, you're more likely to be kidnapped, divorced, etc. It's just a dangerous place too, it can be a dangerous place to have money quickly earned or gained. And there's, I mean the Scripture's clear on this, there's Proverbs about it. But yeah, I think the primary risk in selling the business is you start to trust in money more so than the lordship of Christ in all of life.
Leo: Yeah, yeah that's good. And I think that there's a distinction that you made is really important. That the quickly gained wealth right, going from let's say a regular whatever that income may be for you and seeing a 10 20 30 fold increase, that changes everything. It, you know, whether you like it or not, it's like you said stored power. And all of a sudden you could do things that you probably only dreamed of doing. And the heart, you know the scripture is very clear. And Jeremiah says that the heart is wicked above all, who can understand it? And you know, this is something that, I think every single person that, specifically believers, we're always challenged to look at our heart. Because that's where the overflow of our life really comes from. Right? How we are in our heart, is what comes out of our mouth, it's how we think, it's what we do. And I just think, it's such an important thing that you shared because so many people think more money would really fix my life. It would make me happier, I could do more ministry and, fill in the blank, it doesn't matter. But we can so easily lose our way when we have that quick, quickly gained wealth. However, I think that if you gain wealth over a lifetime, if you slowly gain wealth, I think you also have the ability then to grow and to be tested, and to hopefully be tested and approved and continue to be able to manage what God's given you. And so yeah, there are those individuals that become very wealthy. But if they do it the right way and if they trust God through the process, then wealth is not a bad thing. Like you said it's not that wealth in itself is amoral. It can be used for good. But it is also dangerous when it's quickly gained. So, I so appreciate that insight because I think it is something that pretty much anyone and everyone struggles with and thinks about.
So you shared with me at one time that CSN has impacted you and your team. Would you share what you meant by that? How has CSN impacted you?
Taylor: You know, I feel like I open the door to this room and I'm like, "Wow, I didn't even know this room existed!" Like there's all these people in here talking about things that I'm just not familiar with. The first CSN that I went to, I just spent a time going around to different booths and trying to learn. What are these people doing? Like, how can I learn about what stewardship and generosity really mean, have a deeper understanding of it, what does the Bible say about these topics? And again, I'm just kind of learning and pulling the thread; I'm really new to this. One of the first people I met was Mandy from Generous Giving. Shortly thereafter I went through a jog. That was really helpful just for me personally to understand this journey of generosity. What's my relationship with money, you know? How do I use it as a tool for God's glory? What does it look like to perhaps have a finish line and not continually striving? You know, what is my striving for? I read, James Lenhoff did a keynote at CSN and it just, it really rocked me. And so like, that night I went and downloaded his book, Living A Rich Life. And the main takeaway from that was, everybody knows about compound interest and how it's this eighth wonder of the world and how you know, money compounds over time and people don't really understand the effect of compounding interest. James's point in Living A Rich Life was, regret also compounds. And that, that blew my mind. Wow! I've got three kids that are under 10 and my time with them is very short. I've got 10 years to like really influence them. And I've been married for 14 years, and I want to really invest in and be a good husband. But I'm only here till like 80 or 90, Lord willing. And my time is short and I don't want to look back on my life and regret time that I could have spent with my kids and discipling them, and time that I could have spent with my wife and enjoying her. A lot of men, I think I'm prone to this as well, of just working for, working as part of their identity. And they look back you know when they're 80 or 90 and go, "Man, I chose work over relationships or over family and now I regret it and I can't get that time back!" That was a huge inspiration that came through a CSN contact. Being exposed to gospel patrons, John Reinhardt and Praxis Labs. I mean, in God and Money and John Cortines. And I mean there's just a wealth of resources that I just was unaware of. So I'm extremely thankful for CSN, for the resources that you put out, the work that you're doing within churches and kind of calling pastors and senior leaders to deliver these messages through the church, to equip lay leaders. I'm, in general, just very grateful and thankful that I found this door, that where I am at this stage of my life.
Leo: Yeah, one of our friends is John Reinhardt of the ministry and he speaks to entrepreneurs and business leaders. Many of them are called to support and to, not just run a business, to run a business and make money and provide for their family. But to have that eternal perspective or impact that you mentioned earlier. So I'm not surprised that that resonated with you. Because so many people that are in your seat or run a business and are called to the marketplace, really need to cross that bridge, really need to wrestle with that. Because as you said earlier, this is the one area where a business person can become wealthy and self-reliant, rather than God-reliant. So I appreciate you sharing that. It is really the heart of CSN, to minister to everyone. But specifically, obviously to church leaders and those that they lead. So that they are empowered to live as good stewards and generous givers. I mean it's such an important part of our life and where we get to live. And I do mean that. We get to live here, those resources, those opportunities are much more abundant than in other places. And you know, we need to steward those well. We also need to be cautious of the potential that can come from being successful, you know? Because the enemy is definitely not letting up on trying to persuade us that this world is everything and we should live for as much as we can and get as much as we can.
Well Taylor, I know that recently you guys went through a rebrand. It was Simple Donation, now you guys are just Simple. And that's very specific, so I would like you to kind of unpack that. Tell us the reason behind that and what does it really mean for what you do. And has it changed anything, and if yes, what are some of those changes?
Taylor: Yes, we recently did go through a rebrand. You know, we were formerly named Simple Donation. Simple Donation is kind of a mouthful. So we just dropped the "Donation" to make it even more simpler. A little cheeky in that. But we felt like donations were limiting us in a way to like, "Oh, you guys do donations and that's all you do." And what we would hear from our customers, after they, after we started working with them is, they'd say things like, "Man, you do so much more than just payment processing or donations." Or, "Man, you guys feel like you're part of our team or that we can call you with anything or you go above and beyond." And I'm not saying that to like, chest beat or whatever, or to kind of brag on the team. But I think that's just natural for us to want to find ways to help. To find things that perhaps are time consuming or take a lot of time or are complicated and simplify them, make them easier for church staff to do their job and do their work. We went through this exercise of rebranding with a fantastic agency. And they helped us distill things down into essentially two things that reflect what we're already doing. In this, in a sense like yes our name changed, but it's not like we had product A and now we're doing product B. It was just a, it's kind of a continuation of a thought. And really what they distilled for us is that, what we feel like we're already doing well is we build software and we build relationships. And that's it, that's all we're focused on. How do we use software to make complicated things easier? And then how do we build relationships? And the great thing about that is, if part of our mission is to build long-lasting, long-term relationships, you don't have to work with us! Like, we can build relationships without you paying us money. And we feel like we're fulfilling our mission in some way by helping and building a long-term relationship. And so, that's been kind of the the essence of the rebrand is, now we can focus on perhaps more than just money movement in online giving and finances. I don't know what that might be but there's optionality there. But there's also kind of coming back to first principles in the sense that, we're technical, we like programming, we like simplifying complicated things. And it really is all about relationship.
Leo: Well I think the name suits you guys really really well. So I'm happy to see the rebrand. I think it makes more sense and I think people will definitely catch on and say, "Yeah, that's what you guys do. You make things simple!" You mentioned this before that, people in churches say that it's like having you guys as part of their staff. Like, it's almost like a part-time staffer that comes in and helps and that's really cool. That's a high praise to not have someone that you're working with feel like, "Okay I'm talking to somebody because I have a problem and it's kind of a customer service thing." Which is always seems to be, especially if you're not getting the support you need, you feel like you're always like, I need to convince this person this is a problem. And you feel like you're fighting against it. And what you're saying is, no they they actually feel like they can just kind of walk down the hall and say, "Hey, I've got this problem, can you fix this for me?" Because you're on staff with them, that's a really really cool thing to to have said about you guys.
Taylor: Part of it comes, is we feel we like submitting to the mission of the church because we're very much aligned with the mission of the church. So it doesn't feel like, you know, laborious or work to us. Like, if the church's goal is to make and grow disciples of Jesus, then we're like, we're all in line with that. And if we can do it in a small, if in our mind we can tie some code, some custom code to that mission, it's fun for us to try to do that. And so yeah, we love feeling like we're kind of submitting to the mission of the church in that way. It is really fun to kind of fulfill this calling in that way. Working in some way shape or form for the church. They may not even, some churches may not even think that. But we feel like it, we feel like we're a partner. So yeah, that's awesome.
Leo: Well Taylor, it has been such a pleasure to have you on. I so appreciate that our conversation really wasn't around Simple so much. It was more about you. And that really speaks to what Simple really is about. It's really a ministry, yeah it's a business, but it's really a ministry to churches. To do something that they have to do, but do it in a way that's really done for the right reason, with the right heart, to make it simple, all those things. And so first of all, just thank you for the time that you spent and sharing your story. How can people learn more about you guys, talk to your team, get to know you guys as much as we have and really learn the relational equity and the great things that you guys provide?
Taylor: Well thank you for those kind words Leo, it means a lot. I'm again, I'm really inspired by this community and so I'm very grateful. People can learn about Simple by going to simpledonation.com, you can email me at taylor @ simpledonation.com. I'm also hanging out at the various CSN conferences throughout the years. Come say "hi" you know say, "Hey!", give me a high five, hug. It's been really fun to just meet new people at these conferences and just hear their story. So, whether or not we work together, it's not important. I love the relational aspect of this community and it'd be fun to meet new folks.
Leo: Well, thank you so much for being part of this and taking the time of sharing your story. But also what Simple does and brag on your team, which is definitely deserved. Thanks for your time.
Taylor: Thank you Leo, this has been a joy!