In June 2010 my family and I moved to Columbus, Ohio to plant a brand new church in the heart of the city. Somehow, we convinced seven others to move with us, and over the course of the next ten months, built a launch team up to about forty people and opened the doors to Rock City Church on April 3, 2011. On that very first Sunday, 430 people walked through our doors and forty-three people made a personal decision to follow Christ. Now, just three years and three campuses later, Rock City Church is home to nearly 2,000 people. Together, we have experienced the hand of God in ways we could have never imagined. Our daily challenge is to remain faithful to the call that God has placed on us, and hold to the principles God so clearly laid upon our hearts before ever taking the first step toward leading a church. Though there are many that have guided us along the way, these five principles are the lens through which our team hang our hats on most.
1. The less you do the more effective you’ll be.
Maybe you’ve been there. You look around your church and it feels like no matter what you’re doing, it’s not working. No matter what you try, it just doesn’t have that Midas touch. So you try something else. You take a stab at this model and then that model. Someone says, “I think what we need is …” and so you try it. Someone else says, I think what we REALLY need is …” and so you try that. And before long, you’re surrounded by a fire-storm of stuff that just isn’t effective.
That’s what I was doing when I first picked up the book Simple Church. It messed me up. I was in a church doing everything but nothing well. The heart of the church was good but we weren’t good at anything. We had a heart for the lost, but we weren’t reaching the lost. And I found myself captivated by this simple thought: The less you do the more effective you’ll be. If you try to do everything you won’t do anything well. So much of our church planting journey was created through the premise of this book.
Simple Church isn’t lazy church or sloppy church. When you think about simple you think of clean, excellence, streamlined, purposeful. Everything has a purpose. Everything has a meaning. It’s clear. It’s defined. It’s excellent. It works.
Simple is captivating. It’s easy to focus on simple. It’s easy to engage people around simple.
When we planted Rock City, we purposefully decided to do a few things really well. It boiled down to three. We want to offer a Worship Experience second to none that gives people the opportunity to experience the Presence of God. We want to see people connected and engaged in Community through Ministry Teams and LifeGroups. And we want to see the church engaged Beyond Our Walls, reaching the lost and meeting the needs of the poor. If it doesn’t fit inside one of these three circles, we don’t do it. Period.
2. It’s all about the ONE.
When Jesus tells us the story of the Good Shepherd he wants us to see what moves the heart of the One. Jesus said,“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”
In other words, what moves the heart of the One is the one.
For Jesus, everything He did and everything He said was for the one – the lost one – the desperate one – the hurting one. Jesus came to seek and save the one. And He calls us to devote all of our time, energy, resources and focus on the same.
Salvation alone, no question, is the greatest work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We ought to celebrate it. We ought to be compelled by it. And we ought to see and experience His saving work unfolding all around us – every day – all the time.
If you’re reaching the lost, you’re growing. If you’re not reaching the lost, you’re not growing.
And when you are focused on the one, you care … I mean, really care … about what that one experiences when they walk through the doors of your church. We train our volunteers to treat each and every person who walks through ours doors as if they are the one we’ve been waiting for. The guys who are up at 5:30 every Sunday morning pulling trailers and loading equipment are thinking about the one who will hear about Jesus for the first time that day. The mom and daughter greeting at our front doors aren’t just saying good morning to people as they come in, they are greeting people with expectation that they will experience the presence of God.
When you celebrate the one, people standing on the sideline jump in with both feet. They give, they serve and they get it. They get why they are here. The purpose of the church becomes their purpose. And suddenly the one becomes very personal for them. Their mom, friend, co-worker and the guy next door are the ones they are inviting to church. At Rock City, we are all apart of reaching the one no matter the cost.
The greatest marketing your church has is the lost person who’s been found and has become so compelled by the Gospel of Christ the desire to reach others becomes the greatest desire and outflow of their life. That’s when you know your church is thriving – when the one begins to reach the one.
3. Excellence honors God and inspires people.
There’s something about simple that demands excellence. If you’re only doing a few things, make sure you do them well. When it comes to creating a culture of excellence, you’ll say NO more than YES to opportunities and to new ministries. At the end of the day I’d rather offend a few and inspire many, than say yes to everyone and inspire no one.
When you think about the best meal you’ve ever eaten, an all-you-can-eat buffet doesn’t likely come to mind. More than likely you’ll think of a dish prepared so well that nothing else can compare. Sometimes I think we treat church like an all-you-can-eat buffet. We try to offer a little of this and a little of that so there is something that everyone will like. The problem with this strategy is that typically our offerings come out just “ok.” Nothing to write home about. At Rock City, we challenge our teams to narrow their focus to a few things and do them really, really well. This means we put in the time and make it excellent, no matter what it is.
We’ve found that the more focus we put on excellence, the more creative our teams become. Whether it’s our LifeGroup team finding more and more effective ways of ensuring that each and every person is connected or our mobile team finding better ways of transporting equipment, the desire to do things with excellence can be applied to every area of your ministry.
4. It’s not about you.
This may seem counterintuitive to our second point, but stay with me. When the people of your church have this core belief buried deep within them, your ability to reach people and grow the church is endless. When “it’s not about you,” is alive in your church, people won’t gripe and complain when they are asked to inconvenience themselves by giving up their seat and moving to an overflow experience or even to a campus that might not be closer to where they live. When “it’s not about you,” is alive in your church, every missions trip you take will be full, every outreach event you do will have no shortage of volunteers.
When people get that “it’s not about them,” they see purpose in both the big and the little things they do. They carry this into the other areas of their lives and they begin to walk more confidently in their purpose.
I’m always surprised to hear pastors say things like: “I know we need to start a 2nd service but I’m getting pushback from our team.” More than likely, the people on these teams haven’t yet grasped this truth. If “it’s all about the one” is true, then “it’s not about you” must also be true. They go hand in hand and when walked out together, these truths will engage your church on a relentless pursuit of the lost.
5. You can’t out-give God.
The heart of the Gospel, the heart of God is generosity. For God so loved the world he gave. And if it’s really about the one – and it’s not about you – generosity is the normal response to the overwhelming generous heart of God.
We knew, as a young church, we had a very small window in which to cement this core belief as an unshakable part of our DNA. After all, it’s a lot easier to create culture than it is to change it. In our first three years, over 30% of our total budget has gone Beyond Our Walls. What this means is, we aren’t just asking people to give generously, we’re modeling it. And wouldn’t you know, there hasn’t been a need our church has had, that God has not met.
We celebrate generosity every weekend with our church. God is glorified when, through us, someone is blessed, our city is made better, and the gospel is shared generously.
Simply put, Generosity inspires the lost, engages and empowers the church, and sets people free.
Our commitment is this: We want to be a simple church. We want to be a church that never stops going, never stops growing and gives more than ever before. And we are going after the one until there’s not one left who is lost, whatever that means, no matter the cost!
What would happen if more of us lived by this commitment? How could your church make an even greater difference impacting the kingdom by making a wholehearted commitment to these five principles?