What Makes it a Church?

I was driving with Allison not long ago when we came across a church that had a sign to attract people to come to this particular church. Although it was worded much more eloquently, the sign essentially said, “Don’t like that contemporary music at your current church, then come to ours – we’re doing it the way that you got used to 50 years ago”. Again, they said it in a much nicer way than that, but that was it’s essence.

It got me thinking about churches that I know of that actually aren’t doing anything to reach people far from God, but instead have gotten really good at collecting disgruntled believers from other churches. Most churches are good at hiding that, by having something in their mission statement about reaching unbelievers or something like that, but their reality hasn’t reflected actually doing that in 30 years. At least this one church was being honest about what they’re doing – trying to connect with Christians who are looking to leave their church.

All this led me to ponder out loud – can those churches actually be defined as a church? Isn’t one of the core, defining characteristics of what makes a church, a church, that it actively lives out the mission of Jesus? Would the New Testament call it a church if it wasn’t doing that? Is it a church because they read the Bible and sing some songs? Is it a church because the name on their sign says so?

As we move forward on seeing 50 churches planted in the next 5 years, one of our expectations is that we would be seeing new churches help people discover faith in Jesus. Shouldn’t our expectation be the same for the long established churches as well? And if they aren’t, what should we call them if they’re missing one of the essential defining characteristics of what it means to be a church?

What is it that makes a church, a church?

It’s Time to Start Planting Some Churches

On Tuesday, I got to be a part of something incredibly significant. We publicly launched our movement with other churches in our city to plant 50 new churches in the Long Beach area over the next 5 years in order to see our city transformed.

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It was great to have Rick Warren there for us, kicking off the event and talking about how you don’t need a building, money or many people to plant churches. He was a huge encouragement, and worked the room better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

Vision360 candid RickWarren Coldwarkidsguitarist 071

Miles McPherson shared about what it looks like to be a church that cares for the needs of your city and does something about it.

Vision360 055 Miles Mcpherson

It was a huge gift to have these two very gifted leaders, who lead some of the largest churches in the country (and who actually planted those churches) help us kick off this movement, but what I was more impressed by was who was in the room. There were church planters and potential church planters. Urban leaders and business leaders. Incredibly wealthy men and women, some of whom lead large companies, as well as leaders who lead nationally recognized ministries. There was socio-economic diversity, denominational diversity, and ethnic diversity. The more than 260 people who filled up the room, looked like Long Beach, and the buzz was palatable.

As I talked with one person after the event they told me about how emotional they were during worship to see the spirit of unity in the room amongst such a diverse crowd. When the church unites, not just for unity’s sake, but for the sake of mission, something powerful happens…and we saw that Tuesday. I’m so grateful for the leaders who have stepped up and who I get to lead in this alongside. It is no small act of humility and sacrifice for each of these pastors to contribute their time, finances and even at times their reputation in some circles in order to see the mission of Jesus moved forward in our city.

Now’s the time when we get going, put our money where our mouth is and get some churches that reflect our city planted. But that was an incredible way to get started.

The Benefits of Doing a Big Idea Retreat

Yesterday I got home from the 4th Big Idea Retreat that I’ve led with several of our staff. Every year I take 5-8 of our staff away for a couple of days and as a group, we outline the next year’s message series. Every year, I’m blown away that we’re able to do this and that we come out of it with some great material. Now that I’ve done this for 4 years, here’s a few of the benefits and why I keep doing it:

1. There are great ideas that I would never have on my own

The way that I was trained to come up with message series is to go away on my own and to dream up what we’re going to be talking about. I could really easily do that – there’s plenty of things that I’d love to talk about, but if we did, the kinds of messages that we would do would be heavily slanted towards what I more naturally want to communicate. Different people have different passions and vantage points when it comes to what we need to communicate. Some of our best series in the past few years were ones that someone else came up with and would have never happened if I was the sole idea person for our message series. Our messages at church are richer because we do this every year.

2. Planning 1 year ahead gives me more room for ideas to build

Because I now know what we’re speaking on through 2012, I can collect ideas along the way, begin reading books that would be helpful and start processing ideas that are months away from being delivered as a sermon. I have a system where I catalogue ideas, insights, etc that can be used in messages. This helps me to have some direction on what to be collecting. This takes a huge burden off of my shoulders…and I’m not constantly having to figure out what we’re going to be talking about next month.

3. We can plan natural ebbs and flows in the life of the church

By planning 1 year in advance, we can be thinking about what we talk about based on attendance patterns, what’s happening at that time of year, and having a healthy balance of the kinds of sermons that we deliver.

4. There is greater buy-in with what we’re doing as a church

The messages that we give help to shape our church and really in a lot of ways are a means to cast vision, simply by what we chose to talk about. I believe that vision is worked out in a team environment, which then also means that the message topics need to be worked out in a team environment

5. I can give voice to and push back on theological ideas and biblical interpretations

I don’t do a huge amount of teaching through specific texts with our staff or theologies, but as we talk about messages and how we want to frame things, I get an opportunity to speak into the way that we’re reading texts and some of our theological framework in a more pointed way than I do when we do take opportunities to talk about that stuff as a staff. It was funny to me what people remembered I had said about specific passages of Scripture based on what we had talked about in years past. And at the same time, I get challenged by

6. I enjoy hanging with our staff

There are things that we can’t plan for, conversations we can’t create and experiences that we don’t have together outside of getting away and spending a few days with one another. I think those encounters make us a better team and help us towards pushing the ball down the field a little bit better. Plus, it gives me some great blackmail material on our staff.

Our Big Idea retreat has become, I believe, one of the more important things that we do each year for our church. I love it and am already starting to think about next year’s.

Brainstorming Meetings Don’t Work

Something that I’ve had to come to grips with in the past few years is that at least in my experience, brainstorming meetings don’t work. At least not in the way that I thought they should.

I’ve been a part of quite a few trainings on leading brainstorming meetings, from people who were Disney Imagineers to others who have led large creative teams. I’ve learned the things to do, like the “yes, and…” technique, but I’ve never felt satisfied at the end of them. I think, mostly, because I expected some big, brilliant idea to come out of them. That we would watch something we never thought of before emerge right before our eyes because we followed the brainstorming rules. And that’s never happened…at least for me.

Instead, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. The brainstorming meeting becomes a catalyst for ideas to begin to percolate. And it becomes the place to bring those ideas back together and refine them. In my experience, most ideas are thought of by someone alone – maybe something in the brainstorming sparked it, and maybe the brainstorming helped to make it better, but that idea rarely has it’s genesis in the group of people who are using the “yes, and…” technique.

I was reminded of this as we’ve worked on our Christmas Services over the past month  (I know…it’s not even Halloween yet…but it takes a while to put these things together). We didn’t have any brilliant ideas that emerged the first time we got together, but some ideas got out there and we got started. The next time there seemed to be a bit more direction and thought, and now we’re at the refining stage. I’m surprised every year at the great ideas that are generated and get executed – especially since most of us leave the first meeting saying, “we’ve got nothing this year”

It’s easy to leave after the first meeting and feel like we’ve got nothing. But maybe that’s the problem with the brainstorming meeting – our expectations are wrong. Have those meetings, not because something magical happens in them, but because of what can happen after them. Allow for the ideas to percolate outside of there, and don’t be afraid of shutting them down because you don’t have anything…that might be the best thing for you there.

Church Planting Kick Off Event

At Parkcrest United, we announced our involvement in partnership with churches in the Long Beach area to plant 50 new churches over the next 5 years in order to see our city transformed. On Tuesday, we’re holding an official kick-off event for this effort to invite even more churches, potential church planters, business and city leaders to be a part of this.

We have just a few spots left for this lunch event with Rick Warren and Miles McPherson. The details and the link to register are below. If you want to come and hear more about what we’re doing, I’d love to see you there.


WHEN:Tuesday, October 25th, from 11:00 AM – 1:30 PM

COST:$25 – Includes lunch

WHERE:The Reef, 880 Harbor Scenic Drive, Long Beach



GUEST SPEAKERS:Rick Warren, Pastor, Author

Miles McPherson, Pastor, Author


We are local pastors and business leaders who love Long Beach and the surrounding area. Like others who live and work in Long Beach, we want our city to flourish. We believe that a key part of a flourishing city is healthy churches. Our collaboration will help strengthen local congregations and start new churches that will bless the neighborhoods and people of Long Beach.
Click here to learn more about Vision360.


  • Mike Goldsworthy, Parkcrest Christian Church 
  • Larry Walkemeyer, Light and Life Christian Fellowship
  • Wayne Chaney, Antioch Church
  • John Teter, Fountain of Life Covenant Church
  • Darren Rouanzoin, The Garden
  • Josh Chavez, Parkcrest Christian Church, 7th Street
  • Eric Marsh, Grace Long Beach Church, Vision360 Long Beach City Catalyst
  • Blake Christian, Vision360 Business Catalyst, Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt LLP
  • Chris Lagerlof, Regional Catalyst, Vision360


Vision 360 of Long Beach from Ryan Prouty on Vimeo.

Some of My Recent Reads

I’m pretty convinced that all good leaders are also self-motivated learners. In my experience, one of the most common ways leaders learn is through reading. I don’t know why that’s the case, but whenever I sit down with a leader, I can always ask them what they’re reading, and they’ve got several books to tell me about. I always find out about the best books from those kinds of conversations.

So, with that in mind, here’s a few of my more recent reads that are worth passing on:

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

I gave a brief review of the book here. I think this may be one of the more important books I’ve read recently. It will challenge your theology of salvation and the gospel, in really good, healthy and biblical ways. Read this if you want to be challenged in how you understand the gospel and want to develop a more robust theology in your own life.

On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson

Alan and Dave work through what it looks like for a church to actually empower the people of the church to live life on mission. Our Directional Team recently worked through this book and it provided us with a lot of rich discussion, as well as tangible examples to wrestle with on how to not just talk about these things but to do it in our context. Read this if you find yourself having a lot of conversations about creating missional movement, but the reality is that you’re not seeing much missional movement.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

The true story of Louie Zamperini. I loved this book, and couldn’t put it down. After I read it, we ended up bringing in Louie to speak at Parkcrest on September 11. His story will amaze you (someone described him to me as a real life Forrest Gump – you can’t believe all that he actually did and all that actually happened to him), and Laura Hillenbrand is fantastic at bringing it to life. Read this if you’re looking for an easy to read, inspiring, true story and can’t wait for the movie.

The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

Peterson challenges just about every way that we have understood and defined what it means to be a pastor in the past 30 years or so. This is his personal memoir, but you can’t help but to be challenged by how he pastored and want to develop healthy rhythms and to slow down a bit. These are rich words from a wise sage on what it means to be a pastor. Read this if you’re a young pastor, wanting to glean wisdom from those who have gone before us.

Untitled by Blaine Hogan

I have learned that in leading, as well as the message prep process that I have a lot to learn from people who have learned to lean into the creative process well. Blaine is one of those guys. This is a quick, easy to read book on the hard work of creating something. Its at times inspiring and at times pretty practical. Read this if you need help figuring out how to not just have an idea, but to execute it, or if you need to learn how to not just wait for creativity to strike but to make it a more regular part of what you do.

Quitter by Jon Acuff

This is a book specifically about turning your day job into your dream job. And while I’m not trying to change my day job, and actually really love what I get to be a part of, I found it to be a great read. I’ve found myself recommending it, especially to people in their 20’s and 30’s who are discontent with what they’re currently doing, but trying to figure out how to pursue what they feel like they should be doing. Like “Untitled”, there’s parts of the book that are funny and inspiring, but a lot of great practical nuggets as well. Read this if you’re not fulfilled in what you’re doing and feel like you’re supposed to be doing something else.


I’d love to hear from you, what  you’ve read recently that’s worth passing along…

We Are Most Fulfilled When…

While at first glance it may appear that happiness lies in obtaining our selfish desires, we are actually happiest and most fulfilled when we are sacrificing for something bigger than ourselves: something worth sacrificing for. In fact the so-called spiritual crisis afflicting the West and the epidemic of depression that is following in its wake merely reflect the fact that we have run out of Big Ideas worth sacrificing for.

From Forbes Magazine

Mission and Maturity

I was spending time with someone recently about some of what we’re doing to help Parkcrest recognize that they are a people who live all of their life on mission. As we were talking, this guy asked me, “do you feel like people need to reach a certain point of maturity before they realize this and live on mission?”

My first reaction and response was to say, “no”. We processed my immediate response some then, but now after having time to process it more since then, I’m still convinced that was the right answer.

Maturity doesn’t precede living on mission. Maturity is developed while living on mission.

Jesus doesn’t send out his disciples when they’re ready, they learn to be ready by being sent out. The 72 know very little about preaching the Kingdom and casting out demons when they’re sent out to do that. Peter takes on launching the movement of the church, not long after he has denied Christ – he matures while he’s leading out on mission. Paul preached for 3 weeks in Thessalonica before leaving and a church getting established there.

It seems that those who spend their time focused on trying to become mature, never end up living out the mission of Jesus, and really by definition never then become mature. But those who pursue the mission of Jesus have to develop maturity in order to carry it out.

Maybe one of the most important things that we can do as leaders is to call people towards mission and then help those who are leaning in towards it to develop maturity along the way.

I think it’s interesting that when David is King of Israel and needs a commander for his army, he doesn’t ask who has the most experience, or who is the best fighter. He simply says this, “Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief.” The kind of maturity that was needed to lead the army was displayed by the person who would go up in front first – the one who would be on the front lines of the battle.

I’m all for helping people develop in maturity in their relationship with Christ. In fact, in a few weeks, we’re going to be launching an exciting spiritual formation process for Parkcrest. But those processes help people who are living on mission to mature. Without living on mission, without being someone who steps up and gets on the front lines, the process of maturity doesn’t mean much.

So first, live your life focused on living out the mission of Jesus, and then allow your growth and maturity process to follow that.

Huffington Post on Living Together

After our message on marriage this weekend and our offer of the Free Wedding Weekend, this was passed along to me today. I was shocked to find that it seems that even the Huffington Post is willing to admit that at least for some, cohabitation is a bad idea (although with all the arguments that she cites, I’m not totally sure how she ends up with some).

Here’s a few quotes pulled out of the article:

So what’s so wrong with living with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Let’s forget the studies pointing out the booze (cohabitors drink more), weight (they’re heavier) and happiness (they’re not quite as happy as married couples but they aren’t more miserable, either), because those aren’t the issues. Nor are the results of the latest NMP study, “Why Marriage Matters,” which predicts doom and gloom for the children of cohabiting couples. The NMP has an agenda; it wants to promote marriage. Still, even a recent and presumably agenda-less Pew Study finds similar results, at least when it comes to cohabiting couples’ economic well-being; they’re poorer, and that puts stress on a relationship. A lot of stress…

The real problem with cohabiting is that many couples who enter into it don’t give it a lot of thought; it’s one of those “just kind of happened” things. You like him, he likes you and a few months later you’re jamming your stuff into his closets…

Commitment is a decision. And if cohabitation is being offered as a replacement to marriage — as theAlternatives to Marriage Project and many sociologists and family psychologists see it — then a little more thought about it needs to happen, especially if you know you want to have kids one day.

(read the whole thing here)