Don Wilson: Senior Pastor, Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, AZ
By Ronald E. Keener
Thirty years ago this April, a number of families joined together to form Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, AZ, which now has grown to 17,000 weekly attenders. Their purpose was to impact the north Phoenix valley for Jesus Christ – “acting like a missionary,” says senior pastor Don Wilson.
“To act like a missionary means we have to think strategically about how to reach an unchurched culture, instead of thinking like a pastor where our primary concern is how to keep the church members happy,” Wilson says.
What did the church do to observe the anniversary?
We decided to celebrate by giving to the community instead of doing something for ourselves. We adopted 300 elementary schools and honored the teachers and provided paper supplies to the schools. We served 300,000 students, 11,000 teachers and 300 schools.
Was there a “train wreck” or two during those growing years that you had to get past?
I had four staff turn on me and make false accusations regarding my integrity. I went through a three-hour congregational meeting and lost my energy for ministry for about six months. They resigned and left the staff, but the hurt remained for a long time.
The congregation has a somewhat distinct marketing or growth strategy. How do you define it?
Our major growth strategy is three-fold: We want to reach the man so we can reach the whole family. Statistics overwhelmingly say that if you reach the man you will have a much greater chance of reaching the whole family. We want to reach the younger generation so we have a future.
We want to reach our neighbors so we can change the culture.
Can you expound on the challenges to the congregation you spelled out in your State of the Church message?
One of the biggest challenges for our church as we move ahead is being the church instead of just coming to church. We have to continually develop a ministry philosophy and strategy that pushes our people off of the campus and into the community and the marketplace.
What did you mean when speaking of what Jesus loves vs. what people love? Something along the lines that Jesus loves lost people, but is the church concerned?
I believe the longer the local church is in existence, it naturally wants to turn inward. We have to continually fight the consumer mentality in the church where people think it is all about meeting their needs. One way we do that is by constantly focusing on reaching people who are far from God.
How would you describe Arizona in terms of the Christian church losing its influence?
I don’t know the exact statistics in Arizona, but I have heard that between 80 to 90 percent of people in our state don’t go to church. If that is true then we have lost most of our influence and found ourselves on the defensive.
You have a story of your family moving to a new home and reaching out to your next-door neighbor.
My wife and I moved into a new home in a new community more than two years ago. My mission field is the 20 homes next to where I live. After two years of inviting my neighbor to church and trying to build a relationship with them, they came to church.
I asked them what finally got them to come and the wife made a very interesting statement. She said that you can only tell your friends “no” so many times and that sooner or later you are going to have to say “yes” to them. The moral of the story was: Don’t give up too soon. Keep planting seeds and watering and God will give the increase.
Why do many people find it hard to share their faith?
I think most people find it hard to share their faith for several reasons: One reason would be the fear of the unknown. Another reason would be they don’t know the Bible well enough. Another reason would be we really don’t think people are going to hell without Jesus. And another reason would be because they don’t know how to share a salvation message and lead someone to faith in Christ.
You’ve used the expression that the church is the visiting team and needs to be trained to be the home team? How so?
When I say the church is the visiting team, I mean that most of our culture today does not like the church. The mention of the church creates lots of emotion and hostility, much like a visiting team going to play in their rival’s stadium. Most of us as pastors were trained at a time when the church was still the home team and people respected and valued the church. So we are going to have to change our strategy to win the hearts and minds of those who oppose us.
You had a recent trip to Uganda for leadership.
I as well as our church are involved in John Maxwell’s EQUIP leadership training. I have trained pastors in Peru, Portugal and am presently training pastors in Uganda. Our church staff and key laypeople will be training more than 8,000 leaders in more than 15 different countries this year.
What is the church’s strategy for multisite?
We have a large 100-acre campus at our Peoria location that attracts almost 17,000 people on a weekend and 2,000 people on our Surprise campus. We realized that no matter how big our campus is, we can never impact the city at just one location. So we decided to be one church in many locations. We will be opening up a campus in Scottsdale this August. We currently have more than 1,500 people in the Scottsdale area that drive to CCV. If we can get a campus closer to where they live, it will be easier for them to invite their neighbors.
What are your plans for succession or transitioning? How do you feel about being a “grandfather figure” to many of your young parishioners?
Our elders have an emergency plan in place and we are also working on a succession plan together. In the last few years I find that I am being perceived by the younger generation as a grandfather figure instead of a father figure. For some reason that has allowed me to still be able to connect with the younger generation on a different level and from a different perspective. I am really a frustrated youth pastor at age 64. I love students and am honored when they ask me to speak to their student groups. www.ccvonline.com
Being pastors of influence
I have been asked to lead what is called the Pastors of Influence in our city. This is a group of larger churches from different theological backgrounds that have decided to work together to serve our city.
We are now calling it UNDIVIDED – one church serving the valley. We want to encourage and include all sizes of churches in our city to work together to serve the needs of our city.
Our focus is on the needs of our communities. This includes three initiatives: Adopt every school, eradicate hunger, and empty foster care by serving and collaborating with existing organizations, agencies, and institutions that are doing good in the community. — DW