Pastor Craig Groeschel, the pastor of the largest Protestant Church in America shares how he’s willing to do anything short of sin to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ, the importance of mixing emotion with truth to move people, why Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was playing in the lobby of his church, how excellence honors God and brings value, the systems needed to grow one of the largest organizations on the planet, how to hold people accountable, how he stays in great shape, and so much more.
Pastor Craig’s Groeschel’s Newest Book: Hope In the Dark https://amzn.to/2ChFqpw
Pastor Craig Groeschel, pastor of the largest Protestant church in America, shares how he’s willing to do anything short of sin, to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ, the importance of mixing emotion with truth, to move people. Why Michael Jackson’s man in the mirror was playing in the lobby of his church, how excellent honors God and brings value. The systems needed to grow one of the largest organizations on the planet, how he holds people accountable, and how he stays in great shape without steroids and so much more.
Some shows don’t need a celebrity in a writer to introduce the show math. Eight kids, Koch created by two different women, 13 mode time, million dollar businesses. They do think. Gentlemen, welcome to the thrive time show.
They should welcome onto the thrive time show on your radio and podcast download. On today’s show, we are interviewing Dr c dot. We’re interviewing a guy who I have known a lot about, heard a lot about because he is now known as the pastor of the largest Protestant church in the United States with over 30 campuses. It’s a big deal and because we’re entrepreneurs, we love these startup story. A rumor has it, they started the church and a two car garage equipped with a borrowed overhead projector and to construction lights. They blocked for the low low price of 1990 $9 from Lowe’s and today he is a father of a father of six kids and these guys are known Z as being the inventors of the Bible App, the Bible App. It’s called the youversion Bible App that’s now been downloaded over 200 million times and he’s just released his newest book hoping the dark believing God is good when life is not. Pastor Craig groeschel. How are you sir?
Hey Clay. Dr Z, I’m honored to be on. I’m doing fantastic. Thank you.
Hey, uh, your newest book, I want to get to that in a minute, but I think there’s a lot of people listening saying, how in the world does somebody start a church and a two car garage with a projector and grow it into 30 campuses? Can you, can you share with us when you had the vision to grow the church? Like it’s grown today?
I never had the vision to grow the church like a day, not even anywhere close. Uh, in fact, uh, you know, to, to think that it could had more than a thousand people in one location was, would have been a dream true just to impact that many lives. So now we started back in 1996 and the garage was actually an upgrade. We were gonna in my home, but I was out for a jog three days before we started and bumped into some friends that had a, uh, a little, uh, a little. It was like a work garage where they repaired cars that they transformed into a makeshift dance studio and they offered us to meet there. So we met in there. The great thing is they had mirrors up, so whenever 40 people showed up,
we’re pretty excited about that. Now I want to, I want to ask you this because the first time I watched one of your sermons, you had a sermon where you were talking about demon possession. Okay. And it’s unapologetic about it. You were teaching the Bible, we’re in a digital age, and so you have found a way to charge hard into the digital age while still teaching biblical truths. And I thought, here’s a guy who was the most relevant pastor in America, but you’re not dumbing down the message, watering it down. You’re not avoiding uncomfortable subjects. How have you been able to to stay true to biblical truths while growing in the digital age? I just want to hear that because I know there’s a lot of pastors out there that feel like in order to grow at Church today, you have to change your message up.
Well, I think for years people came to church because they were interested in church. That’s just what they did. And then a generation kind of like maybe my age started waking up saying this is A. I’m not sure we want to do this. What’s, what’s the value? What’s the benefit? And so people kind of drifted from a presupposition and maybe believing in God and the church was a normal part of life. And so I think the pendulum swung from, let’s just do traditional church and people are going to come to let’s go get creative and try to take a message that will never change, but let’s present it in a way that grabs the attention of people that maybe don’t care about church or not as interested in God. And so, uh, you know, in my language, in the church world, it went from being traditional to crazy contemporary, uh, in my mind, the, uh, the package is never what really matters is always the content of the package.
And so what we want to do is we want to adapt the package as the world changes, use whatever we have to get the message out. But the message is, is the heartbeat of it. And so, you know, when I’m working with pastors, we always try to, you know, I hope we all agree that we’re not going to water something down. We’re not gonna, we’re not gonna solve for that. We’re not going to, um, teach an easy message. We’re going to teach an accurate and life changing message. But then we’re going to use any in every means possible. For example, you talk to, you know, thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs with a podcast, why in the world would we not take the message that we have and leverage it through podcasts? And so we like to just say, you know, we’ll, we’ll leverage and redeem technology to impact. And a real popular thing around here is this will do anything short of sin to reach people that don’t know price to reach people. No one’s reaching, we’re gonna have to do things no one’s doing. So we, uh, we have tried some things that maybe are a little bit different and have been controversial som, but I’d rather, I’d rather go down swinging then, uh, go down watching the pitch go by.
And that is your series on, at the movies. How did you get inspired to do that? What triggered in your brain? I mean, what tim? A little bit in the background on the back because I think that’s just fabulous by the way.
So, so I love movies. I love to kind of disappear, love my mind, checkout, and you just love good, good, great high quality entertainment. What I recognize, and you guys probably do this too because you’re fun. You’re in, you’re engaging or entertaining, and what you do, a content alone or information typically doesn’t move people to action. And you guys are great at this. What you want to do is you want to create an emotion that matches a truth or an idea to inspire your entrepreneurs it to, to attempt something they haven’t done before. That’s what I wanted to do without the movies. What we did was we sit in a movie and I find myself in a great one. I’d be crying my eyes out trying to act like I’m not crying.
My wife doesn’t see me.
Yeah, they little more might have been joe or whatever, you know, Bam. I’d try or I’d find myself punching the air in some great movie cheering, you know, ready to go, take on the world and fight or whatever. And, and the emotion was very real. So what I wanted to do is I wanted to mix emotion with truth. Uh, and so from the outside, sometimes people will misunderstand and criticize a series. What we’re doing is we’re trying to illustrate truths from scripture with clips from movies and then we’ve kind of created like a seamless teaching where it weaves in and out of clips from movies and teaching and put together about a 30 or 35 minute visual presentation of truth with music and emotions and clips. And it, uh, you know, the church grows during that time, probably about 25 years, thousand people, more people come to it because they bring their friends and it’s an entry point for people that might not ever normally come to church. And then we always follow it up with kind of an interface, um, different style of teaching. And so it’s, it is a hook. And um, and then hopefully as a hook that, that brings people into something special
pr representative, his name is Michael and he’s represented prince and Michael Jackson and like 58 academy award winners. Then z. He made a poor life choice and decided to represent me. And Michael Levine, you know, is big. Michael Jackson got. So I was mystery shopping your, your church in preparation for hoping that you would accept our request to interview you and you hadn’t accepted it yet. So I did it on faith. I went to the east broken Arrow campus and I went out there and I walk in and the song I heard was a man in the mirror and I thought, wait a minute, man in the is playing before the church service, what’s going on? So I went back the next week because I was like, what is happening? What’s happening? And something was happening and I couldn’t. I and I went back and I can remember the, the, the, the song needed the second week. But I’ve noticed you’re very intentional about playing a secular song in the lobby as people are kind of gathering before the service starts. Can you talk to us about why you do that?
Like you said, we’ve got 31 different campuses and they have the freedom as long as the songs are what I would call neutral depositive. Meaning you can’t sing something about somebody you know, killing, killing people and doing, you know, smoking weed.
Let’s go, let’s get it on with. God was kind of weird that one, that was a good play twice, right?
So they’ve got the choice. If there’s something that ties into a theme that’s going on in the message, uh, before the service stars and the band can pull it off and do it in a real high quality way, but they’ve got permission to make the call. So whatever you saw actually happened outside of my knowledge. If it was good, I’ll brag on them. A few tell me it wouldn’t
conversation with somebody, but it’s a, it’s a way for people that maybe don’t normally go to church. Go, Oh man, I know that song. I liked that. And it happens before the service is meant to disarm them a little bit and then then the tone changes significantly, um, to, you know, something going to be intentionally in an unapologetically spiritual. But that’s what some of the different church locations will do.
I thought I had for you just one little critique is the band is awesome, but they need more cowbell on the track. Cowbell Dr. Z, you gotTa caulk question. You were ready for that one. I was, I was,
I know a church is in a business, but just kind of for the entrepreneurs out there, look looking at it. We have a lot of successful entrepreneurs and they are looking at opening up a second location or a third location or multiple locations and we get a lot of questions. We get a lot of emails about that. What do I need to look for? What and one of the things you just touched on right there, which I thought was kind of a neat point is how much freedom do you give your campus pastors and like you said, they’re picking the songs and whatnot, but when you went from one location to then all of a sudden starting to do these multiple locations, walk our entrepreneurs through. There were some issues with some of the ways you you tackled him.
I worked with churches all the time and it’s almost getting popular to have. How many campuses do you have? Like a calling card. I start with trying to talk them out of it before talking him into it because you know, it’s just like, like in your business as you, you don’t. You don’t want us to. If you start too soon, two weeks, you’re going to compromise the whole thing so you gotta make sure you start right. Then what you want to do is you’ve got to have a real tension between flexibility and control. In the early stages. You don’t know what you’re doing and so you. You don’t want to ask yourself, what do you want to duplicate at the next location? If there’s something that you don’t want to duplicate, you’re gonna. Want to ask yourself, why are we doing it at the first location?
Which is that that’s a really important stage because you may find that you’re doing some things you probably shouldn’t be doing. It gives you permission to start cleaning up. Then what is it? Where are the places that you will give them to kind of wide parameters and let them play within the boundaries and one of the things that you’re unwilling to compromise on. I typically recommend in the early stages of organizational growth, is it you? Is it you go higher on control, lower on flexibility because you haven’t developed a system yet where people know how to think for themselves, so you’re going to think for them a big heavy on systems. Then over time when you got four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 20 locations, whatever, you develop the systems that are in place and then you start to give select leaders a little bit more freedom because if you always control them, you’re going to train them to think like managers rather than leaders.
We don’t want people to just do what they’re told. We want people to think to create, to innovate, and so we’re going to loosen up a little bit on the grip. Then once you’ve really got well established systems, you can kind of pick and choose. These are the things like in my organization, a campus pastor needs to be done at 21. Oh, into the service because that’s when it goes live to satellite. Uh, there’s no flexibility in that. Whatever you have to hit that time, mark, what you do, going up to that time, mark, I might give you a little bit
Um, so you’ll really nail down what are the things that we have to have. Might be certain topic, customer service, it might be what we say when someone comes in. It might be how fast we shipped the product. These are the things that we, you know, will never compromise on, but over time in a good organization will want to, we will want to be intentionally heavy with some systems, but we want to be intentionally flexible to give our great leaders room to create and make it better.
Pastor Craig groeschel that I’ve been to my background, I started one of America’s largest entertainment companies for weddings back in the day called Dj Connection Dot Com. I exited the company. We’re about 4,000 weddings a year at the time and I recognize great audio. I walk in and it’s like the Dojo of Mojo. You guys have great audio there, but I go at the church. I grew up in rural Minnesota, a great people, but their typical z, the band would consist of like a woodblock and it’d be a song like farther a person really can’t sing, but they’re just going with it because the, the main singer couldn’t make it or the drummer hadn’t yet gone through rhythm therapy so he couldn’t drum on beat either and I’m not kidding. It was the weirdest thing ever and there was no standard of excellence. So I want to ask you some really tough questions and if you don’t like them all pick up, you know, like when you hang up. So here we go. If you have a certain standard of excellence and somebody fails to hit the, the, the time mark that you just mentioned or they don’t show up for rehearsals or they just mail it in emotionally. Mentally, they just, they’re not going for the excellence that you want to provide. They’re not working as unto the Lord. There may be working as unto some guy named Lou a. How do you deal with it when people fail to perform as a matter of choice?
Well, we didn’t come up with this. When we say excellence honors God and inspires people, it’s a value and so we’re going to bring our best and then some. If, if someone doesn’t do what’s expected, doesn’t, doesn’t rehearse well, it doesn’t have what it takes. Then the first time we’re going to warn them, the second time, if they don’t do it, eventually, it’s no longer their problem. It’s my problem as a leader. And so we’re gonna. We’re gonna hold people to the highest standards. We’re not going to make excuses. It’s, you know, people say, well, you’re exposed to be church. You must be loving. It’s not loving to let someone do something without excellence. What we’re really trying to reach people.
we have high standards. We’re going to be fast to give honest feedback, high feedback culture, and that’s how we get better. And that’s how we, um, make sure things are done right
now. This is a z. This is the question that can really, really irritate. I’m asking these tough questions so that people never asked pastors about hiring and firing people. I have another one here for you. I feel like this is a bad description, just let me know. I feel like you’re kind of like a sitcom pastor. If I had, if I had to choose a word for you, you know, it’s like typically you know, you, you, you start off and you have, you introduced a problem and the characters and then you solve it and we all leave feeling good. But then your newest book doesn’t read at all like you normally preach. Can you talk to me about, would you classify yourself typically as a sitcom pastor or am I a very bad person for even asking that question?
You’re, you’re a very bad person for us,
I think. I think most, most sermons probably are some variation of a sitcom sermon, meaning, you know, here’s a problem, here’s what scripture says, here’s kind of a solution and application in and it’s, you know, problem solved in 30 minutes or less, including commercial breaks. So the challenge is if, if every message I preached the sitcoms from when I’m probably not being faithful to scripture. And so the many times, in fact, the book I wrote is in, in, uh, joked about it is this was not a sitcom message at all. Um, the book is called hope in the dark. And, uh, the subtitles believe in God is good when life is not. It’s based on an old testament prophet. A lot of people don’t know much about this guy’s name is Habakkuk or Habbakuk depending on where you live. And, um, he was different. Most profits would prophesied the people on behalf of God. He prophesied to God on the half of the people. And essentially what he said is, I don’t like what you’re doing. I don’t think you’re being fair. Uh, and as, as we walk through that message and the book, it really talks about how do you deal with issues, problems, challenges that go unresolved when you’re asking God to do something. He doesn’t. Uh, in other words, it doesn’t get solved in 30 minutes or less. That’s, that’s what the book is about.
My son was born blind and he can actually now see. And I was not a Christian previous to that occurrence. So I didn’t even believe in Christ. I grew up in a church, so I went to oral Roberts University and didn’t know why other than I thought it was a safe campus. Then my dad got diagnosed with als in. It didn’t work out. He just passed away on the day or show in primetime. It was nine, five September fifth and my dad told me, he said, I will live to hear your first show. And he literally died the day our show went live, Tom Clark nine five. And when my dad died, I was a Christian at that point and I can in Devin, you saw that in Dr [inaudible] and Dr Z, he encouraged me and it wasn’t, but I honestly never questioned my faith at all because I was grounded at that point.
But when my son was born blind, I was already kind of what, you know, one of those, you either are or aren’t a Christian, but I was that quasi Christian guy. I would go, I would show up at church. I would be there. How’s it going? How you doing? Good to see you. Let’s have some Koinonia. Let’s sing the song, let’s do the thing right. I’ll tie it, but I wasn’t a believer. Can you talk to the listeners out there that have a child born with a disability cancer that came back? Friends that for whatever reason, they just not getting married, they’re just not good at dating. There are single and they want to get married or somebody like your daughter who’s dealing with something right now. That’s a medical issue. Can you, can you speak to the listeners out there who are going through something?
First of all, I’d say to someone who’s going through something with you deeply, uh, you, you alluded to my daughter. She’s got six kids and yes, we know what causes them or just.
she was getting married and two weeks before her wedding or so she got mono and then she just never recovered to the point where, uh, is complications that are too much to go into now. But if she would try to go out for an hour one day she’d be in bed the next day. So Cook camp function couldn’t have any sort of normal life whatsoever. And that was two and a half years ago and we’re still trying to find something to, you know, she went from healthy to that overnight. And um, so what, one of the challenges, if you’re just gonna talk theology, we lived kind of in a western Christian world where we tend to think if I believe in God, if God is there than, than bad things should never ever happen to me. And that’s just not accurate. Nor is it good theology whatsoever to someone who is going through something like that.
The difference between where I am now and kind of years ago as a younger pastor, I always felt this pressure, not the doubt, not to ask questions and I would just say, don’t be afraid to step into the kind of the nuances, the question, the pain, the fears, the. And instead of letting those doubts drive you away from God, but let them drive you to him. He’s, he’s. If you read in the psalms, you read the Laminations, you reading job, even Jesus out, you know, why have you forsaken me? He’s big enough to handle our questions. He’s, he’s still good. In fact that the teaching and the book is all based on back then. I love what the name Habakkuk means. It means both to wrestle and embrace, and if someone is in that place, you know your child is born blind, which is heartbreaking. Heart wrenching.
I always say feel permission to wrestle and said, I don’t understand why, but at the same time embrace God and just say, I’m, I’m not going to let go. I’m going to continue to try to trust in you. Try to try to hold onto you, and I think I saw the other side of that that you offered. Have kind of like you said, you’re, you feel more grounded now. That’s when you get the groundedness. The maturity of the trust is. It’s often not with a smooth sailing life, but sometimes it’s on the other side of real tragedy.
I’m not asking you to get into a theological debate, but I just want you to solve something for me personally. Maybe this helps. Only one other listener, but this is something I’ve always had an issue with. Uh, when I went to oral Roberts University, we would have people that would come into the campus. A lot of great speakers by the way, a lot of great ones and a lot of them though would teach. I’d say probably a third of them would teach that if you give God 10 bucks, then you’ll get back 100 bucks. You know, he gave 10. You get a hundred back. Now I can say this, I became very successful in built multiple multimillion dollar companies as a, I wouldn’t say a fully devoted pagan. I didn’t wear a goat head and drinks. I drink lamb’s blood and sacrificed things, but I did not.
I went to church but didn’t believe in God and I built everything myself just by following proven systems. I get to the top of Google because I know how it works. I know how to optimize websites and produce audio and I have certain skills and I know a lot of very successful people that don’t believe in Christ at all. Could you kind of resolve that? The thinking’s I grew up in a home, but where we believed if we were looking for a job, for instance, we would pray for a job but not apply for a job. Does that make sense? Like it was. It’s A. we’re not my direct family necessarily, but people are. If there’s a family where people just, they just would pray for blessings but they wouldn’t go back to school to get a skill. Can you speak to that? That mindset of I’m going to pray God to God and then not do things in the practical. Maybe the batteries.
I think a sloppy and lazy theology, if you want to quote scripture, the Bible says if you don’t work, you don’t eat. And so you know, I, I applaud anybody. No matter what your faith system is, who, who goes out and, and attack something, kills it, drags at home and, and built a house and that’s what you did. The, the lazy don’t prosper the diligence in a profiting and, and, and that’s what you do. So I think, you know, in, in attacking a job, I think it would be unwise not to pray. You would be equally unwise not to go apply, not to build your resume out to, to show up early, make a great impression, and so the, you know, to, to be spiritual and believe that God is a provider is, doesn’t ever take away the responsibility we have to go and, and, and bring your best. And as far as the whole give a dollar gets $10 in return. I think that’s a dangerous can be a dangerous theology. I do think that God blesses a lot of things. He blesses hard work. I think he blesses generosity, but to say he’s like a heavenly, a slot machine, you know,
put your money, I think.
I think it was bad theology.
Now the phrase it was quite a bit with money. Compass was the phrase we have one guy kept coming and money comes, give me, give me a dollar, I’ll give you 10. I appreciate you for resolving that. That for me, and I know the listeners out there that are, uh, interested, you created this app, this app. I don’t know if you personally did. I don’t know if you’re an amazing pastor slash coder guy, but you guys created an app that has been downloaded and if I’m incorrect, please correct me. I think 200 million times
it’s approaching $350 million as of today.
Three. Okay, so $350. I got to update the show notes. Here we go. Awkward time to do it. But here we go. So $350, million downloads. How did you create this app? What was the process that you guys went through to create this app?
So we. We believe that the truth of the Bible, super powerful. We also believe that many people today don’t either don’t care or don’t, don’t read their Bible. So you may have a book sitting on a coffee table somewhere or whatever. So years and years ago we tried to create a website to help create engagement around the Bible and the the goal back in 2004 or five, it was, it was kind of like a combination of facebook, youtube, and the Bible. We wanted to have people upload content and give them a community or the ability to discuss around the Bible. Well, it didn’t work and we were about to, about to shut it down and then it was, it was literally weeks and weeks before apple was coming out with apps and one of my team members said, what if we took that work and created an app when you gotta remember this was before we even knew what an APP was. And so we said, how can anybody around here create an APP? We had this 19 year old kid that was part time on staff. It was really smart. And so we said, do you think you can create an APP? And he said, you know, how hard could it be? So He created an APP and on the very first day that apps came out, uh, we had one of the first ones available and from Thursday through Sunday, hope my numbers are right. We had, I think it was 83,000 downloads
Bible App. So the, the part time kid went fulltime on Monday and that was his job. Uh, so we started out just as not really knowing much about it and now there’s over a million Bible verses share today and you know, millions of millions of Bible plants that are finished every single month and it’s, it’s grown into something really special.
Pastor Craig groeschel, my final awkward question, I really am just trying to get, get before we go past that. This is a very important note on that APP. It’s free. This just in from our Home Office. One more time and see what did you just say? It’s free. I mean we did. When did you guys make a decision and why did you make a decision to just give that thing away?
Years ago people wanted to buy our sermons, one of the transcripts, one of the curriculum and such. And we um, we made a really big kind of daring decision done back when we were in kind of financial. Uh, we’re, we’re struggling. We decided to start giving away as much as we could for free. And so we have, we’ve had over 450,000 pastors last year download free materials and we just started trying to give as much as we could away. When we came out with the APP, our goal was to do the same. We just, we just didn’t know if we could afford it. So I’ve got probably 45 or so people that are on the team to develop the youversion Bible App and our church just kind of got behind it and they started giving toward it and believed in it to recognize, you know, one little church could or one church could, you know, give away hundreds of millions of a Bible apps around a little. They’re pretty passionate about it. So it, you know, I talked about God blessing generosity. It was in that time we started giving stuff that we started doing better financially. And what’s really cool here we are now almost 23 years into it in 31 locations in 10 states. And we are completely debt free, still giving away stuff like crazy. And I’m able to open up new locations by people, you know, giving ahead of time and, and, uh, having a paid for before we ever put a shovel in the ground.
That’s powerful. That’s kingdom right there. Dr Zelman. I have. This is my final question. I’ve got to Cuban music here, pastor Craig groeschel. I’m getting ready. Here we go. Here we go. Here it is. Here’s the thing. It’s kind of a bromantic question, Craig groeschel. You are, you will stay in great shape. You’re a beautiful man. People. People are watching you going, how is it possible? Be Thirty one campuses. Shouldn’t he look like Jabba the Hutt now? I mean, he’s got to be thinking and didn’t know what I mean.
Maybe uncomfortable until now.
I’m just saying this is funny. I actually, I actually do business consulting with multiple churches. One is in Amarillo, Texas. They have, it’s called a victory church in Owensboro called river city. Um, there’s one up there called the roads church. These guys are in shape, but you are jacked. What’s going on? What are you doing? What are you eating? What are you doing?
What are you eating? For years and years, I thought if I just went to the gym, I’d be in good shape and probably eight or nine years ago I realized that’s a very small part of it. It’s a, I had a real clean diet and it’s pretty boring. Uh, I could tell you basically what it is, but, you know, well, essentially it’s just low carbs, high protein with a lot of vegetables. And so I’ll do a little bit of carbs in the morning with some oatmeal and some, uh, some berries. And then I’ll do a, I’ll do a shake, I’ll do some, uh, uh, Alban’s during the day. Then I’ve got this guy that makes me meals and they’re just real clean meals. I order six at a time. They come to my office. I just had one today. There. They’re a Turkey and a rice with some vegetables or is it a little bit of real claim a lean steak with some, uh, uh, a cabbage and rice. And then I’ll just do the same thing in the afternoon and evening.
Well, there you have it. I think a lot of people go, he’s got to be on steroids. You stay in great shape. I think. I think he has his, but his is what powers the powers that the success of the church. It’s just, it’s a. it’s really easy as a male models what he is. Pastor Craig, I appreciate you for being on today’s show. We like to end each and every show with a boom and around here. Boom stands for big, overwhelming optimistic momentum. So typically we say three, two, one. Boom. Are you prepared to give us a boom?
I am ready to give you a boom.
Dr. Are you prepared with any further ado, thrive nation. Here we go. Three, two, one.
shared a boom with the pastor of the largest church in America,
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