By Joe Webb and Matt Anderson
The Phoenix metro area, which includes Scottsdale, has long been a part of the ten most unchurched cities in the United States (according to Barna and Pew Research, among others). It’s also been known as one of the least Bible-minded cities. Beyond the research and the numbers are people who aren’t just staying away from church and the Bible; they aren’t even aware of God and his love for them.
While Sunday mornings aren’t the end goal by any stretch of the imagination, at McDowell Mountain Community Church (MMCCaz), we believe that creating an environment for people to become aware of God and the gospel story of redemption is incredibly important. We noticed quite a few churches around us that took a traditional approach to Sunday morning worship, so we decided to go a different route.
The first step was simple and foundational, but one that is often neglected: we needed to define the “win” for Sunday mornings. The win for us is based on our culture and community, and the lack of God-awareness. On Sunday mornings, our goal is this: creating an environment where people can turn their hearts and minds back toward God. In fact, this is how we define worship. We worship whenever we turn our hearts and minds toward God, whether that be Sunday morning in worship or Tuesday afternoon in the car or Friday morning hiking in the mountains.
In a world that pulls us in so many different directions, there are plenty of distractions to worship. To overcome those distractions, we use a variety of tools and methods, all with the end goal of creating an environment where people can reset their hearts and minds on God as we gather together.
We’ll often use humor as a way to help people get past their preconceived notions of what church is and who God is. Mother’s Day (www.vimeo.com/42253232), Father’s Day (www.vimeo.com/44159400), and random pop-culture interests, such as American Idol (https://vimeo.com/50027194), become opportunities for us. And they help us create an environment that people are drawn to—an environment that ultimately leads people toward the person of Jesus Christ.
Our services always culminate in a response time, something we picked up a few years ago from SeaCoast Church (Charleston, South Carolina) while on a visit with a group of pastors from the Church of God. The traditional altar call is something that has developed over the past century or so. While important, there are various other ways we can create space for people to respond to God’s Spirit. We have candles that people can light during our services. In the Bible, light represents God’s presence. Plenty of people walk in on Sunday mornings feeling that God is distant and removed.
Lighting a candle can be a symbolic way of people’s asking God’s presence to be with them. We have a few large crosses scattered throughout the room. Next to those crosses are pens and paper. People can write prayer requests or confessions or simple responses to the message and pin them up to the crosses. Again, this is a symbolic way for people to give something over to God. We have stations with communion on tables in the room. People can be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice during the response time and commit themselves again to following him as they take Communion. Many elements of corporate worship in the larger church today—the room, the seating, the response, the singing, the preaching—tend to be spectator oriented. We don’t want spectators; we want participants, and not just participants in singing; we want participants who are engaging completely in worship.
We have a long way to go. We’re on a journey in learning how to create environments where people can turn their hearts and minds toward God. God has been using our experiments for his good. Over the past four years, our Sunday morning attendance has doubled. But more importantly, we’ve baptized more than one hundred people. We’ve baptized former Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We’ve baptized people who had never heard of God’s love through Christ. And we’ve baptized those who walked away from the church and their faith a long time ago. We’ve seen incredible engagement in our global and local mission efforts. When tragedy has struck in our local community, we’ve been asked to host, comfort, and speak into the lives of those who’ve been affected by the tragic events. God has given us a voice in this community. And his kingdom is expanding here in Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Want to hear MMCCaz’s latest live worship recording? You can get it free at www.noisetrade.com/mmccaz. Want to see some more videos from MMCCaz? You can view them at www.vimeo.com/Mmccaz. Want to connect with MMCCaz? Visit www.MMCCaz.com.
Joe Webb has been the worship pastor at McDowell Mountain Community Church (MMCCaz) in Scottsdale, Arizona, since 2009. Before coming to Scottsdale, he had served for six years as the youth pastor at Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, alongside Pastor Jim Lyon. Matt Anderson has been the lead pastor at MMCCaz since 2008. Before coming to Scottsdale, he had served for six years as the preaching associate at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, alongside Pastor Marty Grubbs.