Grace Hills: A Growing Church for a Growing Community

Grace Hills Lobby

I’m in awe of God because He is God and because of all that I know to be true about Him from Scripture. And I’m humbled to be a part of what he is doing in the world today. I just got to share this brief update about Grace Hills Church via Mission:World Magazine. Will you read it and rejoice with me?

Sometimes Northwest Arkansas feels very much like the center of the world, at least culturally. What was once small town America is now a cluster of cities collectively larger than Little Rock and consisting of dozens of ethnic groups and people from every major religious background. The region is also home to the world’s largest retail corporation and a new, American art museum that draws a half million visitors per year. Somewhere around 1,000 people move into the I-49 corridor every month. In other words, we couldn’t plant enough churches to keep up with the population explosion and cultural transformation happening around us. But we’re going to try.

In the four years that we’ve been planting Grace Hills, we’ve met close to 2,000 visitors and now average 250 in Sunday worship, having baptized close to 100 people. A dozen and a half small groups now scatter around the county each week. And we’ve also accomplished one of our biggest goals – we’re planting a daughter church in nearby Siloam Springs – Journey Church, led by Michael and Jennifer Smith and Cody Woodward. Additionally, we’ve sent The Sanders and Crabtree families to Papua New Guineau and we’ve partnered with missionaries John and Alisha Herring in Nixa, Missouri and Ely and Ana Brito-Semedo in Thailand.

The biggest celebration is that behind every number is a name; every name has a story; and every story matters to God. Join us in praying that God would keep sending more broken people our way in need of the redemptive hope of Jesus Christ!

How to Know When Sunday Was a Success

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This past Sunday, Grace Hills had our big Premiere Sunday at the Malco Pinnacle Hills Cinema. We had less than three weeks to prepare for the big move after making the decision to switch locations, so the last week or two have been fairly stressful, but when the big day arrived, our minds were a little blown away by the response. God showed up in a powerful way!

Here’s what my mind has been processing since we left the theater…


I have to point out up front something I repeat often when people are expressing gratitude for how well things went: “We blame the good stuff on Jesus.” He guided our planning and preparation, energized our team for the task, and His Spirit filled the theater with His powerful presence and blessed His truth.

Prayer CircleA lot of prayer

Not only had our staff been praying hard during the days leading up to Sunday but the whole church was praying that God would use the day in a powerful way. When our set up teams were finished prepping the theater, we gathered for prayer and then fanned out to pray over every room and every seat. I believe that heavenly things only happen on earth in response to prayer.

An overwhelming number of volunteers

I even observed that if the only people who showed up were the volunteers, it would have been a well-attended day. There were a dozen people who helped us move our things into storage and/or out of storage to set up the theater. There were more than a dozen people greeting, handing out welcome brochures, directing parents through the check-in process, and guiding people into the main auditorium. There were a dozen more caring for the 16 babies, 29 preschoolers, and 71 elementary-aged kids. And a dozen more worked with the main auditorium equipment, sang and played, and worked security. Best of all, they were enthusiastic volunteers.

A collective spirit of expectancy

That is, there was an energy that could be felt. Some people came in already broken by life and others arrived with gratitude for how God has been working lately. Even those checking us out for the first time seemed delighted to be welcomed with genuine love and appreciation.

Grace Hills StaffAn incredible staff

I believe our rather small team of four official staff members and their spouses are some of the best on earth. There’s nobody I’d rather be in the trenches with that Neil, Angie, and Meredith along with Lauren and Clayton. I’m humbled to get to lead them!

The Word of God

I’m reminded of how the Thessalonian believers received God’s Word when Paul wrote to them, “you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit…” I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever felt an anointing quite that powerful overwhelm me for boldly preaching the Word. Jesus was exalted. Needs were met. Lives were changed.

Showing off our humanness

Baptizing In a Theater FountainThere’s always a hitch, and the hitches keep us human. I had bought a new cattle tank to use as a baptistry, but wound up heeding the advice of my wife, fellow staff members, and pretty much everyone else that the risk of flooding the room or electrocuting someone by placing it where cords were spread everywhere was too much of a risk. So, we baptized two people in the fountain in the lobby of the theater. Jennifer, first up, placed her full trust in me not to drop her, but drop her I did. It was a poorly executed moment that resulted in a lot of laughter and a “do over.” In the end, Jennifer and Garrison were both immersed in an unforgettable celebration of their new life in Christ.

Leaving, but not wanting to, and with a sense of anticipation about next Sunday

“I can’t wait to see what happens next.” I said that myself and heard it from others. In all, it was a record-breaking attendance for us of 318, just three years into the church planting journey. Angie and I whispered to each other during the music that it was a “dream come true.” On my way up to speak, however, the Spirit of God nudged me with a gentle reminder. It’s a dream coming true, in the present, continuous tense. We celebrate yesterday, but we anticipate great things from God tomorrow!

So what’s next? This weekend, we kick off a series called Overwhelmed, and we’ll be talking about anxiety, depression, stress, and worry. Would you join me in praying that God’s Spirit would draw, through the invitations of friends, the people who desperately need this message to the theater next Sunday? I’m expecting great things.

See a few more pictures on our Facebook page.

Grace Hills, Happy Birthday! You’ve Been Featured In a Magazine!

Ministry TodayWell Grace Hills, you’ve been featured in a two-page spread in Ministry Today magazine (<- click that link to read this issue), which has a readership of somewhere in the ballpark of 100,000. It’s fairly appropriate that the magazine arrived in my mail on our third anniversary of having launched in the Rogers Malco Cinema.

On this particular Sunday, I’m a little overwhelmed with emotion about our journey so far, and even more overwhelmed with anticipation about where we’re headed in the future!

Next week, we will begin gathering in the Pinnacle Hills Malco, one exit south of our current location. It’s in the middle of the Northwest Arkansas community and affords us some incredible opportunities to create community space and grow our kids ministry.

If you’d like to help us spread the word about our big Premiere Sunday, just visit the Facebook event page and there are graphics as well as an RSVP button.

Feel free to share the image and brag a bit on your church family!!

When Things Get Real in a Church Plant

Grace Hills' Second Service

A snapshot taken in our first official “second” service, 1/19/2014.

I am humbled! Today marked the 2nd anniversary of our launch as Grace Hills Church. Today, we also launched a second morning worship service – something I’ll write about later. And today, we began a new teaching series called Healing: Recovering from Life’s Hurts, Habits, and Hang-ups.

We had a record attendance. 240 people came, 47 of whom were kids, and 2 young adults received Jesus as their Savior. THAT never gets old! That’s the highlight – two young ladies who are going to heaven now, for whom life will never be the same again.

What really humbled me the most, however, was that I started the message off by declaring, “My name is Brandon. I’m a Christian who struggles with anger, and here’s the story of what that has looked like as Jesus was worked in my life to help me understand and start to heal.”

And the result of risking saying something like that to my Grace Hills family? People were thankful. People felt free to say, “I’m broken too.”

We’ve been determined from day one that Grace Hills will be a church OF broken people with a message FOR broken people. We embrace messes and value messy ministry. We’re a safe place for people with struggles and we believe that, though broken by sin, there is forgiveness and healing in a relationship with Jesus.

I’m taking away some big blessings from today…

  • Jesus saves, and Jesus alone, and He’s powerful to save people from every background imaginable.
  • Risks are worth taking, like launching two services when we hadn’t filled up the room we were in. It worked.
  • Getting real matters. Transparency matters. And I don’t ever want to go back to faking it. Ever.
  • If God can use me, He can use anybody, and He has and He will!
  • Volunteers are awesome! From the early setup crew to the kids volunteers to the greeters and the coffee makers, I LOVE the people who invest their heart and their energy into making Grace Hills what it is.

And we’re still just getting started. God is at work, gathering a community of believers who are coming to know Jesus and serving others for His glory. And I can’t wait to witness what is next!

Grace Hills – You’re a Game Changing Church

Michael Smith, Grace Hills’ Church Planting Leader in Residence and adoptive Dad, talking to Heather Napier, an adoptive Mom before our Orphan Sunday service.

This past Sunday marked the second week in our latest teaching series, Game Changers. With week one, we focused in on Jesus as the ultimate game changer who gave His life as a ransom for anyone who would trust in Him for all of eternity. Nothing and no one has ever changed the game for humanity more. And this same Jesus calls us to change the game for others by sharing the good news, telling the world about Jesus, and living as expressions of the gospel in the world around us.

Since part two of our series fell on Orphan Sunday (recognized by many evangelical churches), we spent most of our day talking about the orphan crisis in the world, and I was blessed to watch our church respond. How?

  • You showed up. On a Sunday when we announced in advance we’d be talking about orphan care, you brought friends and had a comparatively high attendance of 178.
  • You listened, intently, and celebrated the story of Michael and Jennifer Smith’s adoption of their twin boys.
  • You supported the Napier family who will be bringing home their adopted child from Uganda in the next few weeks.
  • You affirmed a commitment to develop an ongoing ministry to families interested in foster care and adoption.
  • You took information on organizations such as The CALL, Bethany, and The Global Orphan Initiative as well as printed material offering practical ways to engage in orphan care, and you verbally celebrated the day’s challenge to get involved.

Repeatedly, I’m amazed at how you embrace big challenges. In less than two weeks, 18 of you will travel to the second poorest and most dangerous nation in the western hemisphere to serve people and share Jesus. Tons of you volunteer excitedly in a range of areas, and you do it with gusto! And when we have a community event like Blocktober, you show up and make it rock (about 800 guests came)!


Next week, we’re talking about changing the game by going where others haven’t been yet. I’ll be interviewing B. J. Sanders and Jack Crabtree, both of whom will be going to a completely unengaged people group in Papau New Guinea to plant churches, translate the Bible, and serve the poor. Then on the final week of the series, I’ll be teaching about how we can change the game for northwest Arkansas. We’ll talk about some of the greatest challenges facing our own area.

Then, in 2014, we’re going to a new level of making disciples and multiplying to reach and serve northwest Arkansas. And I know you’ll respond. I’ve loved being your Pastor in your short young life, and we’ve only just begun!

Keep changing the game! And keep worshipping and serving the One who changed the game for all of us – Jesus!

10 Values of a Stellar Church Staff

Bricks In the PathAt Grace Hills, one of the most important things we ever talk about is our Code – our Core Values. We talk about these values in every membership class and in most staff meetings. They’ve done more to guide our growth than anything else we’ve written down.

Recently I began reflecting on where our church’s staff needs to go as a team and it occurred to me that while our church, as a whole, understands who we are because of our Code, our staff may not have a strong identity as a team because I’ve never clearly and succinctly articulated my own values for those who join our ministry in a leadership role.

So I wrote out the ten values I hold most dear when it comes to church staff members. And they are…

Grace Hills Staff Values

  1. Jesus is the One who fuels genuine passion, so we stay close to Jesus, we honor Jesus in all we do, and we make time with Jesus first priority.
  2. Integrity is required for leadership, so we honor our covenant and remain accountable to our leaders, and put our families before ministry.
  3. We lead by serving people, and we serve by leading people, so we value the soul of those we lead more than valuing what they can do for us.
  4. Values are easier caught than taught, so we will go first and lead by example in the things we expect of the people of Grace Hills.
  5. My real role is developing disciples and servant-leaders, so we spend time with people in real life and we give ministry away whenever possible.
  6. The mission launches every Sunday and gets carried out all week long, so we create ministry opportunities outside the weekend worship gathering.
  7. Excellence brings God glory unless it becomes an idol, so we strive for excellence but we move forward even when excellence is not yet in reach.
  8. Failure is a sign that we’ve taken a risk in faith, so we will take risks and celebrate failure and learn from it rather than playing it safe.
  9. Teamwork is more valuable than specialization, so we help each other out as a team, pitching in to make everyone around us more successful.
  10. Ministry is a privilege many would want to do for free, so we work hard to honor and earn the right to be in our role.

Feel free to borrow ideas, but I don’t recommend adopting this list as your own. If you’re a Lead Pastor, write your own values out of the overflow of your hopes and dreams for what a great church staff looks like. I’m sure we’ll tweak these over time, but this is a good start.

photo credit: jasimsarker

Happy First Birthday, Grace Hills!

Northwest Arkansas is a fantastic place to call home, and thousands of people are calling it home for the first time, many of whom don’t have a relationship with Jesus. So a year ago, Grace Hills Church launched publicly to reach people far from God. In that first year, thirty people went public with their newfound faith in Christ through baptism – a moment we celebrate big-time at Grace Hills.

Here’s a brief video snapshot…

What will our second year bring? I’ve already written recently about why 2013 is going to rock at Grace Hills, and to celebrate its kickoff, we baptized two more new believers this past weekend, in 25 degree weather, outside, in cold water!!

As Kelsey put it…


That never gets old! And that’s what I pray 2013 looks like all year long!!

I want to take a little space here to publicly thank the people who have given to make this first year happen.

Thank you! Thank you ! Thank you!! And may the next year be the best ever for the sake of souls!