What I Learned from 10 Churches in 4 Days

This past week was crazy. I took our five Pastoral Residents on our first annual “church tour.” We decided to stay close to home and see what we could learn from the Church (or part of it) in Phoenix.

We interacted with 10 churches, met with 7 leaders, participated in 6 worship services, heard 2 sermons on Galatians 3:15-26 (at different churches!) and drove 339 miles — all in 4 days.

The first two days (Thursday-Friday), we arranged seven meetings with church and ministry leaders. Then over the weekend, we visited six different services.

I took many pages of notes, especially in our meetings, so for this post I want to share the single biggest lesson I took away from each of the seven meetings and then share some general lessons from visiting all the church services.


Randy Thomas

1. Randy Thomas, Executive Pastor of Mercy, Mission Community Church

It was a treat to spend time with Randy and his assistant Shelly. Randy was humble, gracious and remarkably transparent with a group of guys he didn’t really know well. Made me excited for Mission’s future.

BIGGEST LESSON: The church is not a counseling center — it’s much more. When it comes to people in pain and crisis, the church can offer something that nobody else can: a Christ-centered community.

Terry Crist2. Terry Crist, Lead Pastor, City of Grace

Terry and his team were remarkably hospitable, serving us a nice, catered lunch and going out of their way to welcome us.

BIGGEST LESSON: Never lose the smell of sheep. As a church grows, it’s crucial to continue to work hard to know, care for, and invest in people. And don’t be a hireling. 

Bill Borinstein3. Bill Borinstein, Lead Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel North Phoenix

Bill has been a wonderful blessing to me and our staff for a number of years. This is the second or third time I’ve taken folks to learn from him and it’s been wonderful each time.

BIGGEST LESSON: If your leadership isn’t fueled by closeness to Jesus, you have nothing to say and nowhere to go. Don’t trade intimacy with Jesus for leading others into intimacy with Jesus.

Jeff Gokee4. Jeff Gokee, Executive Director, PhoenixONE

Jeff’s ministry is unique in that he doesn’t lead a church, but leads a ministry that works to connect 20-somethings with local churches.

BIGGEST LESSON: If we’re honest, most churches are geared to young families. So churches need to work hard to acknowledge 20-somethings and intentionally create environments to connect them with older people who will love–not criticize–them.

Brian Kruckenberg5. Brian Kruckenberg, Lead Pastor, New City Church

It’s been fun to watch Brian’s ministry grow rapidly in the last few years, from a small church re-plant to now over 900 people in the heart of the city.

BIGGEST LESSON: Because you’re the leader you often think you know best. But everything is stronger if you let artists create, let writers write, and let all the people do what they are better than you at doing.

Neil Pitchel6. Neil Pitchel, Pastor of Administration, Redemption Church

Neil’s leadership and financial expertise is a big reason why Redemption has been able to be so strong in the midst of expanding.

BIGGEST LESSON: One of the biggest mistake a pastor can make is not knowing how money works and ignoring the financial aspects of church leadership.

Scott Maxwell7. Scott Maxwell, Elder of Preaching, Grace Bible Church

Grace has a reputation for training men and developing people, and spending time with Scott made it clear why this is such a strength.

BIGGEST LESSON: Don’t leapfrog over your heart. You can’t assume that you or the people you are training have hearts that are close to God. So focus on the heart before you focus on the head and the hands.


We visited Mission and Sun Valley on Saturday night and then went to New City, Church of the Cross, Mars Hill and Impact on Sunday. Here’s what I learned:

1. Preaching really matters a lot. The sermon is the longest part of any service and, as a result, plays a huge role in the effectiveness of the service. The services I enjoyed the most had the best, most engaging, most gospel-centered preaching and the services I enjoyed least had the weakest preaching.

2. Worship leaders need to lead. Everywhere we went had music. None of it was awful. Some of it was tremendous. But the best places were places where the worship leaders actually led. They prayed, they exhorted, they helped you engage. Anyone can play a gig. But we need worship leaders to lead.

3. Every church as a vibe that communicates strongly. As we would debrief each place, you could tell that much of how each guy interpreted his experience was through the “vibe” of the church. You could call the “vibe” culture, feel, or something else. You can write whatever you want on a website, but the vibe more strongly communicates who you really are.

4. I will hire some secret shoppers. Having this experience convinced me that I need to hire/recruit some secret shoppers who will intentionally visit our church and give us feedback on key elements of the experience. When you’re in it every week, you just get blind to so much.

I had a blast with the guys on our trip. And I’m encouraged by how different the body of Christ can be.

Published by Luke Simmons

I was born and raised in Denver, CO and lived there through high school. Then I moved to Champaign, IL where I attended the University of Illinois and played on the Fighting Illini baseball team. I was married in December, 2001 to Molly, who I met at the U of I. In June of 2002, we moved to Phoenix and have been here ever since.

3 thoughts on “What I Learned from 10 Churches in 4 Days

  1. This looks like time well spent.

    With so many churches in the Valley, how’d you go about choosing the churches you visited?

    Unless I’m wrong, despite the differences, most of the churches you visited have a lot of cultural and philosophical things in common – not to say that they are identical. I think it would have been highly valuable for future leaders of the Church to visit some minority-majority churches or even mainline denominations. We can learn a lot from brothers and sisters not like us.

    1. Good observation. I wish we had visited a more multi-ethnic or minority church. The main idea on the tour was to see as many churches as we could. This meant we had to go to churches with many services and a variety of service times. As a result, we had to go to bigger churches (for the most part) and they often share more of our cultural and philosophical realities. For the interviews, it was mostly chosen by connecting with those I have relationships with. Again, my hope in the future would be to expand my own relationships with a variety of leaders and, thus, be able to expand who we learn from.

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