They needed 14 million two years ago; this past Sunday, they only needed 2.4 million to see their vision come fully to life. Two years ago, the leadership of Valley Creek Church (http://valleycreek.org/), based in Flower Mound, announced an ambitious plan: double the space in Flower Mound, open a Denton location, and set up a school in New Delhi, India to train local church planters.
This past Sunday, October 12, was the two year missional anniversary of that vision and happened to be the day of my visit. My companions and I arrived early, giving us ample time to tour the 27,000 sq foot Denton campus, located in a storefront next to Hobby Lobby.
A spacious welcome area, complete with commercial quality coffee shop and bistro tables, led to superb children’s areas–well equipped with the latest in screens and computer technology where children from babies to the fifth grade would be well-cared for and entertained during the worship times–and a modern, technology-laced, comfort-chaired, stage-centered worship center.
The wide stage, flanked by three giant screens, held nothing but a plexiglass-encased drums and a keyboard. No altar or podium, and clean, almost stark appearance, highlighted by a blue-lit background.
General information flashed on the screen with periodic interruptions by the countdown clock appearing five minutes before the 9:30 service was to start.
At 9:28, the percussionist and more musicians prepared to open worship the moment the expertly filmed announcement video ended. The congregation, primarily straight, white, young adults, stood, lifting hands in worship, as the band launched into nearly thirty minutes of room-filling, heavy-beat praise choruses.
Around 10 am, the campus pastor Justin Nall briefly took the stage. Attention then moved to the screens as the Valley Creek Church lead pastor, Jason Stickl, offered an approximately 30 minute taped message.
Stickl skillfully recounted the story of the last two years peppering his talk with easy-to-remember one-liners, all circling around the theme of taking the next step. Everything was focused around movement, change, making space for others.
He likened himself and the church to Joshua and the Israelites as they prepared to take possession of Canaan. He then moved to the call of Peter, reminding us several times that Jesus told him, “you follow, I make” in the movement to become fishers of men.
He spoke of the magnitude of what they sought to accomplish by reminding the listeners: “‘What if’s’ disappear when you gaze into the eyes of love.”
He reviewed the vision. They heard the voice of God telling them to take the land and become a church for the city. The keys to the kingdom of heaven have been given to the people of this church and they are the gatekeepers. Their job is to open the gates as wide as possible so as to bring as many as possible to Valley Creek Church. Once in, each person is to be a disciple-making disciple of Jesus, re-presenting the life of Jesus by their own lives.
Stickl called on the power of the miracle, referencing the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus. He noted that the miracle, at that time in hands of the disciples as they handed out food, is now in the hands of the people of Valley Creek Church.
A key phrase repeated several times, “Somebody’s somebody is sitting here now.” The terms “somebody’s somebody” forms the core of their evangelistic push: each person has a “somebody” for whom we need to make room by our own movement, our own next steps.
Stickl ended his message by a robust call for commitment. Upon entering worship, each of us had been given a card titled, “What has God done in you?” and a “My somebody” card. Stickl asked each person to write the answers to several questions that revolved around what God has done for them since they’ve been a part of the Valley Creek Church.
At this point, Stickl instructed the congregation to take out their “My somebody” card and write a name on it–the name of the somebody for whom each person needs to take the next steps in order to bring them into this church. As the band gathered on the stage, all were asked to come forward with their “My somebody” cards as well as their offerings (with a plea that those who are not yet tithers–ten percent givers–start doing so on this day) and place the cards and funds in the receptacles provided at the base of the stage.
There was no formal dismissal after the final song. People just began filing out, and so we joined them, and were warmly thanked for our attendance by the many men manning the various exits. We spoke briefly with the centrally located and highly visible security guard, and then left, knowing that forty men in India are being trained in how to do a church plant modeled after this one.
[Note: the article above is scheduled to run in the October 17, 2014, edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle.]
I was accompanied on this “mystery worship” experience by two men with well-honed observational and entrepreneurial skills and with little exposure to the world of the Evangelical church planter.
As we walked out, one said, “that was an exercise in empire building.” The other said, “I can’t figure out what I was supposed to take away from that.”
My own response was significantly different. What I saw was the birth of a new “Saddleback” church, clean, neat, doctrine-dictated, male-dominant, inerrant Bible, “we will take over the world” church. Saddleback is now training massive numbers of African pastors in their purpose-driven church model, Valley Creek Church intends to have the same impact in India with their “keep moving for somebody’s somebody” model.
I also figured out why The United Methodist Church is such a failure at church planting. More on that later.