Craig Groeschel: “If we delegate tasks we are creating followers—or people who simply do what they are told. But if we delegate authority, we are creating leaders.”
In Part 1, Craig Groeschel recalls the early days at Life.Church and the significant changes that had to take place in their thinking to spark such remarkable sustained growth. In Part 2, he explores the future of Life.Church.
In 2006, several of us sat in a room and decided to start sharing the resources we created for our church (curriculum, sermons, videos, etc.). It wasn’t an easy decision and it wasn’t out of a sense of abundance. But we clearly felt it was something God wanted us to do, and so we launched our open resources site. How has that decision shaped our church?
That was definitely one of the most difficult decisions to make and one of the most important. It was tough because we were totally strapped financially. I was sincerely afraid that once we started giving our resources away, we might not always be able to afford it. I never could have imagined how God would use that decision of faith. First, it completely changed us. We feel called by God to give as much as we can. Our team loves to say, “We will lead the way with irrational generosity, because we truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Not only are we blessed to share resources with tens of thousands of churches, but God has enabled us to give away the Bible App to people on 200 million mobile devices. Looking back, it was the moment that we started to give that God started to bless us with financial resources.
What other moments stand out as pivotal to our development as a church?
One of the most important decisions we made was probably around 2005. As a church, we decided to limit what we did to only five areas of focus. Instead of continuing to add ministries (like sports, singles, men’s, women’s, conferences, etc.), we chose to focus on these things: 1) weekend worship, 2) small groups, 3) kids ministry, 4) student ministry and 5) missions.
We stuck to that plan for about seven years before we loosened up just slightly. We always say, “To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to do things no one is doing. But to do things no one is doing, we can’t do what everyone else does.”
Because we limited our focus, we had the margin to do things that hadn’t been done before like launch the world’s first online church and create and fund the Bible App. Because of our relationship with other churches through free resources, we were able to unite over 2,300 churches to do a series together called One Prayer that turned into a global movement of prayer, serving, giving and church planting.
Our team loves to say that failure isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. If we’re not failing, we’re not taking risks. What would you describe as our best failure at Life.Church?
[Laughter] That’s a funny way to ask the question. I can think of two “best failures” that stand out to me. The first is that in 2005, we tried to start two Life.Church campuses simultaneously in Phoenix, Ariz. To make a long story short, neither ended up working. We made more mistakes than I could count. But what we learned from those failures enabled us have the impact we do today through our multiple locations.
The second is a failure many people don’t know about. The YouVersion Bible App didn’t start as an app. It was actually intended to be a website to help people engage in the Bible. The problem was that no one used it—including us. Just weeks before we were going to shut it down, we tried it out as a mobile site and then heard Apple was coming out with apps. So we took our failed website and turned it into the Bible App. Thank God for those two failures!
Over the years, technology has played an important role in our ministry. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, I seem to remember an overhead projector in our early days. What helped you get passionate about leveraging technology to reach people?
Yeah we weren’t the most tech-savvy church in the early days. The truth is, I’m not crazy passionate about technology. What I am crazy passionate about is reaching people for Christ. Technology is simply an amazing tool that we love to leverage to reach people.
Our perspective has become a lot more global over the years. What has helped us get there? How would you like to see us grow in that perspective?
In the West, many of us think we’re in the center of what God is doing around the world. This simply isn’t true. As we’re blessed to connect with churches around the world, it’s helped us recognize that God is doing more than we can imagine. We must remain humble, eager to learn and play our role in God’s massive story unfolding around the world.
What do you think would surprise people about the way we operate behind the scenes at Life.Church?
It would surprise people how much I don’t know. And I’m not joking at all. We have so many amazing leaders that carry so much weight.
It also seems to surprise people that our top leaders have been together for the last 17 years. To me that’s normal—but evidently it’s a blessing I shouldn’t take for granted. And even though we’re still together and very unified, many would be shocked by the healthy debates we have. (“Healthy debates” is a nice way to say “serious disagreements.”) We are so diversified in our gifts and experiences that we often clash and butt heads, but God seems to use our differences to make us more effective than we could ever be on our own.
You laugh when people ask about a five- or 10-year plan for Life.Church. I think that’s partly because we never could have predicted all that God has done over the last few years. But with that said, what are your hopes for the next decade of ministry at Life.Church?
We have to acknowledge that it’s impossible to predict the future. While I used to make five-year plans, now I simply plan to be ready to respond to opportunities that I currently cannot see. Years ago I never saw church online, multisite ministries or the Bible App even as possibilities. We didn’t plan for any of those. We were simply ready to respond when the opportunities arose.
So now we literally plan for opportunities we can’t predict. We budget for future campuses without knowing which city they will be in. We plan to hire staff roles that don’t exist today. And we put money aside for ideas that no one has thought of yet. So when God reveals an opportunity we didn’t expect, we’re ready to jump on it.
As you look toward the future of ministry for the “capital C” church, what excites you, and what challenges do you think we’ll face?
I love that we are seeing more and more churches working together. We all have to see ourselves as a part of the larger church because we can do infinitely more together than we can apart.
As a church we will have to work harder to show grace as we preach truth. Many people will need a place to belong before they will believe.
Some believe the church as a whole is dying. I believe the opposite is true. While some are panicking because they see the world getting darker and persecution becoming more prevalent, this actually strengthens my faith. Because we know the light shines brighter in the darkness. Throughout history, persecution has strengthened and unified the true church of Jesus’ disciples.
No matter what, we’ll keep preaching Jesus and building his church. We love to say, “We are big-thinking, bet-the-farm, risk-takers. We will never insult God with small thinking or safe living.”
Senior Pastor: Craig Groeschel
Affiliation: Evangelical Covenant Church
Bobby Gruenewald is pastor, innovation leader at Life.Church. Connect with him on Twitter: @BobbyGwald