Ed Young: I grew up in a pastor's home, but when I went to Florida State University my understanding of the church changed. I was attending a good, traditional church in Tallahassee, and I invited my teammates from the basketball team to come. Nothing connected with them. That shocked me. I began seeing the church with a different set of eyes.
I eventually went on staff at my dad's church in Houston. Like Neil, I had the opportunity to be on staff at a megachurch. But I wanted to help start a new church that would be attractive and accessible to people like my college teammates. We moved to Dallas and began Fellowship Church. I didn't intend to start a megachurch; no pastor worth their salt does. We had no idea it would be so big.
Big is an understatement. You clearly invest a lot of energy and creativity in your worship services. Why?
Young: The worship event is the port of entry into the church. We have many, many, many, many other things that connect people to the church, like small groups and hospital visitation. Relationships are really important, but worship is the biggest entry point. So we are very intentional about our sermons and creating an experience.
Is it about attracting as many people as possible?
Young: Yeah, we want people to come and hear the gospel, but it's also about creativity. I think church should be the most creative place in the universe. That's a big part of who we are. The movie series we're doing right now, and the way this whole place is decorated and transformed, that's about creativity.
I've heard that you once preached from the turret of a tank. Is that true?
Young: (Laughing) That story always comes up. We had a guy in our church who said he owned a tank. I didn't believe him, so he took me to see it, and sure enough he had a tank. I was planning a message on spiritual warfare, so I thought it would be great to have a real tank in the church.
Are those ways to create buzz; to draw a crowd?
Young: Honestly, it just seemed like fun to me. Ultimately the creative stuff we do is about good communication. A tank is a great visual in a sermon. It's got to be about communicating the message. Period. We're not interested in creating a sideshow. Church cannot, cannot, cannot become a circus. If something isn't going to reinforce the message, we just don't do it.
But as word travels about the crazy things you've done, doesn't that attract more people?
Young: I suppose, but that's not why we do it. We want people to connect with the message of Christ, and we'll use creativity to make sure that happens.
Neil, how does your approach differ?
Cole: I was trained like Ed—to create a church experience as an outpost and invite people to find Christ there. One of our early plans was to rent a coffeehouse to reach young people in Long Beach. We were getting ready to launch. But in the middle of one of our strategy meetings God spoke to us and said, Why not go to the coffeehouses where they are?
Rather than trying to convert people from their coffeehouse to our coffeehouse where we could then convert them to Christ, we decided to bring Christ to them. So we started hanging out at their coffeehouses, and things started rolling. People started coming to faith in Christ. That's the difference between being centralized and decentralized.
What happened after they became believers?
Cole: We organized them into home groups that met every other week. They were so eager to grow and be together that they started meeting every week. Eventually I tried to launch a worship service, because that's what I was taught to do. People who had grown up in the church came, but none of the new believers did. I was expecting people to leave life to come to church. We learned that wherever life happens, church should happen.