17 Years of RockChurch
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” -Zechariah 4:10
RockChurch held its very first service 17 years ago on May 31, 1998 in a rented church building on Route 98 in Groveland, Illinois. My wife (Annette) and I are so grateful for everyone who has helped us along the way – and for those who are still serving as we continue to run with the vision God gave us. We spent the weekend sharing some amazing stories of life-change and celebrated what God has done (past), what He is doing (present), and what He is going to do (future)!
17 Favorite Things About RockChurch
1. Team RC (Staff. Leaders. Volunteers.)
RockChurch would not exist without the blood, sweat, and tears of our amazing team. Hard work. Effort. Faithfulness. Creativity. Inspiration. Endurance.
We were mobile for 9 stinkin’ years! Set up. Tear down. Set up. Tear down. Find a blowtorch to unlock the frozen padlock on our trailer so we can load in. Set up. Tear down. You get the idea.
2. Coffee Bar
I love our coffee bar. I love our coffee. Most of all, I love the people who serve behind our coffee bar each week offering more than just ‘goodness in a cup.’ Smiles. Hugs. Encouragement. Life.
I also love that people are encouraged to bring their coffee (or Mountain Dew, hot chocolate, bottled water, drink of choice) into the service. The church is the people, not the building. So go ahead and spill it. We’ll clean it up. This concept was woven into our culture from Day 1.
3. Worship Experience (Same Message. Different Language.)
Same Message. Different Language. is more than our slogan. It’s our mission. It’s our vision. It’s who we are and how we do church. We firmly believe the Message (Gospel, Good News) is sacred, but our methods are not. This is why our methods have changed during the last seventeen years. We must adapt and speak the language of the culture we’re trying to reach so they will understand the Message (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). And of course, it must be communicated in love or no one will give a flip (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
I love our band (aka worship team). I love that our band rocks. I love that our band does not perform. They worship! I love that we worship at full volume and provide ear plugs for those who don’t like it loud. I love that we worship “all-in” because Jesus is worth it.
4. Nickelodeon-Style Kid’s Ministry
We believe the best 70 minutes or so of your kid’s week is when they attend FUSE Kids (1st grade – age 12). Games. Prizes. Candy. Live band. Moving lights. Black lights. Most of all, JESUS.
I had a mom message me recently that her daughter’s attitude had change at home. Why? Because of what she was learning in FUSE.
5. Anniversary Service – Year 1
Three hundred-sixteen people showed up and forty-seven came forward to receive Christ! For two twenty-something’s only one year into a church plant doing contemporary church (with an edge) when no one else was doing it in central, Illinois – my wife and I felt pretty good. That feeling would be short-lived as we were kicked out of our building one week later. Ahh, the ups and downs of ministry.
6. Baptizing My Kids
We have been privileged to baptize hundreds of people over the years, but my two favorite baptism moments were dunking my own kids (Savannah & Ashton). And I love the fact that they were both spontaneous baptisms.
7. Memorable Video Projects
8. Confetti Cannon Craziness
There was that one time we thought it would be cool to shoot off confetti cannons at the end of our anniversary service. Then our bass player Oj (one of my best friends) thought it would be cool to grab one of the cannons and shoot it off himself. The only thing is – he didn’t shoot it up in the air – he shot it directly at the audience and nailed an elderly woman in the second or third row. Thankfully, she was okay. Yes, I’m laughing out loud as I type this – and yes, it’s still one of my favorite moments.
9. Adding Multiple Services
Like I mentioned above, we were a mobile church during our first nine years – before finally leasing a store front for two years. During those 11 years we couldn’t consistently break through the 200 barrier. Then we bought our own building (current property) and all hell broke loose – literally. Two months into our permanent location we had to add an additional service. Then we added a third. Then we added a Saturday service. Now we need to build a bigger facility. That’s coming.
10. TV Commercials
Instead of spending the next eight weeks searching our archives I decided to Google this Got Jesus? commercial we aired on MTV during our first year. Of course, it had a RockChurch tag-line, not Sharon Heights Baptist Church. No other churches in our region were airing TV commercials in 1998 so the response was remarkable.
Another highlight was producing this commercial in our market that aired during the 2005 Super Bowl. I would still field questions about it in public two years later. Impact.
11. Building Sister Church in Kenya
We built a church in the bush of Bamba, Kenya in 2005. This is a personal highlight for me as I was able attend the first leg of the trip and dedicate the ground we would build on. This trip was a life-changing trip I will never forget. We have sent teams on four additional trips to deliver food, medicine, and the Gospel while continuing monthly financial support up to this day.
12. KDOT TV Show
This was a David Letterman/Jimmy Fallon flavored talk show that targeted teenagers during our second or third year. KDOT stands for Kingdom Department of Transportation. We shot 7 episodes in a roller skating rink over twelve months and aired them on local access television. Live band. Studio audience (from 35 to 350). Guest bands. Interviews. Great, great show. Bad, bad A/V quality. Crazy, crazy fun. If it wasn’t such a money pit we would have kept it rolling (no pun intended).
13. Chris Sligh from American Idol
This was back when American Idol was still a popular show so it was pretty cool to have Chris Sligh as our guest. Great concert. Great weekend or worship. Great memory.
- Pamper nights
- Marriage encounters
- Outreaches (motorcycle ministry, Trunk or Treat, Easter egg hunts, and VBS on steroids)
Lots of lives have been impacted as the direct result of our various events, outreaches, and ministries.
15. Living Last Supper
The Easter production – Living Last Supper – is an amazing presentation that brings Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting to life. Overflowing attendance, overwhelming response, countless commitments to Christ, and numerous testimonies are the reasons we’ve repeated the production for the last three Easter weekends.
We’ve been in ten buildings over the years. Some good. Some bad. Some big. Some small. And at least one or two that led us to ask, “Were we smoking crack when we made that decision?”
Here are two examples:
- We met at an old run-down Christian campground that was mostly used for summer revival camp meetings. We did church every Sunday night for 2-3 months during the summer. Saw-dust floor. No air conditioning. Lots of cobwebs. Snake in the nursery. Should I keep going?
- We met for 5 weeks in a little dumpy Knights of Columbus building complete with metal folding chairs and an open bar that housed our children’s church. The nursery was an oversized utility closet. When guests began smoking and drinking at the bar it was time to move out. “Hey kids, pull up a stool!” Bad, bad, bad.
Okay, they weren’t all that bad. Here’s three good examples:
- We met in a roller skating rink (Planet X Rollerworld) for two years. “Come to RockChurch…and stay to skate, joust, and play laser-tag!”
- We met in a really cool building called The Waterhouse (industrial vibe) in downtown Peoria for almost 4 years. We absolutely loved this facility and simply outgrew it.
- We then moved into a store front (Candletree Shopping Center) for two years after being mobile for nine. This was such a breath of fresh air and allowed us to rebuild our foundation that ultimately paved the way for us to purchase our current facility.
This might be last on my list, but it’s certainly not the least. My very favorite thing about RockChurch over the last seventeen years is…the people. We will never apologize for being about numbers because every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God.
Here are some of my favorite stories of life-change.
- There was a young teenage girl that showed up during our first year. She would stand outside smoking and loitering. One of our ushers would talk to her and finally got her to come inside. She came back. She gave her life to Christ. She grew up at RockChurch. She grew at RockChurch. She’s been at RC since. She developed our current coffee bar and continues to lead our team. I will perform her wedding in a couple weeks.
- Ten years ago a young unchurched man got hounded by a coworker to come visit. He finally gave in just to get his friend off his back. He got saved. He began attending regularly. He began serving. Now he’s our Student Pastor.
- About three years ago the facilitator of our Financial Peace University class ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut as an object lesson to bless the deliveryman with a generous tip. That generous tip led the driver to sit in his truck and weep. After driving by regularly for one year he finally decided to pull back into the parking lot and give Rockchurch a try. He got saved that day. He began attending every Sunday. He has since acted in our Easter production the last two years and currently serves on our Greeter Team.
- There’s the story of a nine year-old kid who attended our children’s church during our very first year and would attend periodically with his uncle (our original worship pastor). Now that “little kid” is our Worship/Creative Arts Pastor.
- More than fifteen years ago my friend Chris and I would meet at hip little coffee shop every Tuesday at 6:00 A.M. and dream about ministry…and doing ministry together. We hired him a few weeks ago to be our Executive Pastor.
- I was approached by a young man a couple weeks ago who told me his atheist twin brother finally caved and attended a service last September. He got saved in that service…and passed away two weeks later unexpectedly. He looked at me and quietly said, “Thank you.”
Every NUMBER has a name.
Every NAME has a story.
Every STORY matters to God.
Here’s to the next seventeen years…