(Photo: LifeChurch.tv via The Christian Post)
Pastor Craig Groeschel still considers LifeChurch a "start-up" church despite the fact that his message reaches well over 26,000 worshippers every week.
The current scale of the Edmond, Oklahoma-based church is a far cry from what it looked like 15 years ago.
Groeschel, now 43, preached from a two-car garage during the church's humble beginnings. He said it was so cold during the first meeting that the small group that gathered had to wear hats and gloves to keep warm throughout the service.
But after seven people gave their lives to Christ that day, Groeschel said he knew that God was doing something profoundly special.
From there, the church went to meet at a middle school, a bike factory and then at a theater, outgrowing every facility they moved into until they started rapidly expanding through a network of churches.
Today, the church has 13 locations across six states, with nine sites throughout Oklahoma. Thousands of online attendants, many window shopping Christianity, also watch the services through live satellite broadcast or through the 40-plus service times.
Still, Groeschel adamantly rejects being labeled as a "megachurch," telling his congregation during LifeChurch's 15th Anniversary service on Sunday to "never believe it."
While "mega" means "big, slow, successful," said the pastor, he likes to think of LifeChurch as a "start-up church with a massive vision."
"Don't you dare call us a big church when you look at the need," he told his flock in a message that was re-broadcast several times on Monday.
"We are a micro-church with a mega-vision," asserted Groeschel. "We have a vision to go into all the world, not just being happy with a service at 9:00 and 10:30. Never!"
The upbeat preacher used the milestone celebration as an opportunity to re-emphasize the vision of LifeChurch, saying its mission remains to "lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ."
Preaching from Luke 5:27-28 as the primary text, he said that God calls on people that no one in society would expect just like Jesus called a despised sinner like Matthew, the tax collector, to join his circle.
"God just loves to choose those that others love to discount. He calls someone that others thought was way too bad to come," said Groeschel, who admitted to being a big sinner, especially during his fraternity days in college, before he accepted Christ.
He also outlined the five values of LifeChurch which included to: 1) try anything short of sin to reach people who don't know Christ; 2) lift up other churches who are part of Christ's church; 3) exist for the purpose of being spiritual contributors instead of spiritual consumers; 4) lead with irrational generosity; and 5) live as big thinkers and bet-the-farm risk takers to bring glory to God.
One example of Life Church's willingness to take initiative and exemplify generosity is the giveaway of its YouVersion Bible app, which has been downloaded over 13 million times since its launch last fall.
Groeschel said that he has received offers to monetize the smartphone app but turned them all down. He explained that the first Bible he received was handed out free by a Gideons evangelist on his college campus and he wanted to return that gesture for others.
"My Bible is not for sale," he said.
This year, LifeChurch will be involved in several projects to expand. A kids facility will be built at the Edmond, Okla., campus while buildings for the congregations in Owasso, Okla., and Wellington, Fla., will be constructed on properties owned by the church. A new campus is expected to be launched in Midwest City, Okla.
LifeChurch.tv is the largest congregation in the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Groeschel asked his church to join him and his wife in making a re-commitment to LifeChurch's mission.
"We are all in again, for the rest of my life," he said. "I want you to be all in with me because there is nothing more important than the church of Jesus Christ glorying God in the world."