Valley billboards proclaim the coming of LifeChurch.tv this fall to Gilbert and Mesa — two new satellite campuses for an Oklahoma church that relies on a satellite to knit seven campuses together in one ministry.
Developed in 1996 and tested in Oklahoma as a satellite-connected worship experience, LifeChurch.tv is exporting its ministry to Arizona.
Using a wide range of technology and three arenasize video screens, the church has leased the auditoriums and classrooms at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa and Mesquite High School in Gilbert. Two semitrailers will be parked outside each school packed with equipment to create a church setting complete with its own Christian band, plus lasers and "intelligent lighting" for maximum impact.
Operating in leased space will come with challenges. "We are talking to the schools to get there as early as we can on Sundays," said Scott Rodgers, pastor of the Mesa site. "Our goal is to try to get it set up in four hours."
LifeChurch.tv (www.life church.tv/blog-phoenix) kicks off Sept. 11, but a "preview experience" will be 9:30 a.m. Sunday at both schools. Those attending will get a look at what to expect once it all begins next month, he said.
The "one church, many locations" concept has been adopted by a growing number of megachurches. One survey found more than 1,000 American churches now serve its members at more than one site.
LifeChurch.tv, affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church, representing about 750 congregations, has its main campus in Oklahoma City with satellite congregations in south Oklahoma City, Edmond, Tulsa and Stillwater. Combined attendance on July 24 was 15,300, Rodgers said.
Rapid growth in the Valley persuaded LifeChurch leaders to target Arizona for its first expansion outside Oklahoma.
"We came to Phoenix, and there are a lot of great churches here," said Chris Spradlin, the 34-year-old pastor who will lead the Gilbert church. "But it just seemed that because there is a growing population here that there was a need." In January, they began exploring where to open churches.
"LifeChurch is going to have campuses all over the nation at some point," he said, adding that there will likely be one or more someday in the West Valley. Preaching most Sundays will be founder and senior pastor Craig Groeschel, who first gathered with eight people nine years ago in a garage in Oklahoma City.
Spradlin called Groeschel, who is 37, a "great teacher of Scripture, he is a great communicator, fun to listen to and an awesome leader. He is a very humble guy, he has an amazing amount of integrity and character." Local pastors will preach four to six times a year, "but the majority of the teaching will be brought via satellite" with Groeschel preaching.
"We don’t have to put 10 to 20 hours a week into preparing a message for the weekend so it actually empowers us to do more, to lead more and to connect with people," said Rodgers, 36, who has spent the past 13 years as a youth pastor in Michigan. "We are a fullservice church just like any Bible church." Each campus will have six staff members.
There will be moving lights and graphics and regular videos. Children’s classrooms will be rich in graphics and TV screens "to get kids’ attention so we can share Christ with them on their level," Spradlin said. Youth ministry services are designed to provide a Christian alternative to popular culture.
"That is the next generation, so we pay very close attention to that," said Spradlin, who recently served as youth and teaching pastor in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
More than 400 turned out on July 9 for the church’s first preview in the Valley, and many joined small clusters called "Life Groups" that are now meeting in Apache Junction, Queen Creek and Paradise Valley, Rodgers said. "We are plugging people into the ministry and they are volunteering."