Sunday, July 11, 2010

Atlanta: Circles of Excellence and Passion City Church

In my last post I mentioned how impressed I was by this morning's preacher at Buckhead Church, Jamie Dickens.  As I tried (and mostly failed) to get more info about him, Google turned up this link about "the TED commandments."  As a huge fan of the TED conferences (they bring together the best minds in every field), this list caught my eye and it's must reading for any speaker.

This blog turned up in Google because the author wrote "As I type this Jamie Dickens is bringing the heat on the Buckhead Church stage" ... and he wrote this last year.  But then I noticed whose blog it was: Carlos Whittaker, a fantastic musician and worship leader.  I saw him perform at Catalyst West this year and bought his CD, "Ragamuffin Soul".

This made me think about how all of these people are connected.  Andy Stanley founded the Catalyst Conferences.  Buckhead Church basically sprang forth from 7|22, a singles-oriented ministry of North Point Church that was located in Buckhead.  The popularity of 7|22 demonstrated the viability of putting a North Point satellite campus there, and finally 7|22 went away.  The lead preacher at 7|22 was Louie Giglio, who also headlines the Passion Conferences.

Louie Giglio, less than two years ago, started Passion City Church.  They aren't even meeting every week, but tonight I visited there (more below).  He recruited Chris Tomlin to be his worship leader - who would've even thought that someone of that caliber would do this?  Furthermore, Chris was living with his family in Austin - he moved them to Atlanta to get this church going.

Tonight, there were about 2,000 people in worship.  Chris Tomlin was awesome, and then I saw that Christy Nockels (formerly of Watermark) was on stage with him.  Turns out that Christy moved her family from Nashville to be a founding family of Passion City.  And then you know who else was in the band?  Matt Redman!

So I started thinking: sure these superstars all know each other.  Excellence wants to be around excellence.  Those who excel are willing to take risks to support others who excel - because they know that excellence is a habit.  How many of us are holding ourselves back because we're choosing to associate with mediocrity?  We know that we don't want our children hanging out with kids who make lousy grades - neither should we.  And taking it a step further, could it be that this is one of the reasons why non-denominational churches are flourishing?  Because denominations certainly aren't hotbeds of excellence - but they are organizations of forced association.  But non-denominational churches don't have forced associations.  They can choose to only affiliate with the best and the brightest - the ones who are doing it right.

So maybe if we want to strive for excellence we need to do more than start within us; perhaps we need to start by choosing to place ourselves where excellence will surround us.

As for Passion City Church, they met in the Cobb Energy Centre, a 2,750 seat concert hall that was mostly full.  I arrived 10 minutes early and had to sit in the highest balcony.  The overall event was far, far too long (2 1/2 hours!) The music was, of course, great; how could it not be great with Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Christy Nockels!  The night began a few minutes late with Louie introducing himself and we read Revelation 4 in unison, leading into the opening song "Revelation Song" (Kari Jobe).  The rest of the set was "Holy is the Lord" (Chris Tomlin), "Expectation" (unreleased yet Chris Tomlin), "Where The Spirit of the Lord Is" (Chris Tomlin/Christy Nockels) and "A Mighty Fortress" (Christy Nockels).

Louie spoke for an hour.  This was just too long.  We were at the 2-hour mark when he finished, and then we still had a ways to go.  His talk was inspiring, but it made me think that he was used to the Passion Conferences, which target youth.  I don't necessarily need a message that is just about how special I am and about how God can do miracles.  It's a great reminder, but as a middle-aged adult I need a little more.  He had one memorable line for me: when God does something miraculously great in your life, would God be happier if it shocked you or if it didn't?  Shouldn't we expect God to be the God of miracles?

He then announced that they had signed a lease on a permanent worship location: a vacant former superstore of 135,000 square feet (!) that will take millions to renovate.  The capital campaign began tonight! :-) If you can see the yellow dot in the map they were showing on the right, that's the location of the new facility.

From a lot of the comments I heard around me, and given Louie's background as a speaker in parachurch settings, it seemed as if this was almost a parachurch-church.  There were church buses parked outside.  I heard people talk about their own churches, and it seemed that everyone knew the songs and already loved Chris Tomlin.  So I wonder if they're actually growing their base or taking it from other churches (but to be honest, if you're doing it better than someone else, if you give people better opportunities to connect with God, then they ought to leave their present churches and come to yours).

And my main takeaway is this: excellence wants to connect with excellence.  And excellence is what leads to going from startup to leasing 135,000 s.f. of space in two years.

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