Chris Hodges - 20 Year Anniversary
Well, happy anniversary, everybody! So good to see you, today. And I want to just take a moment, like I always do, and look into that camera and say to every campus, every location, we are one church that has the privilege of meeting in 23 locations all across our region. I got up early this morning, like I do every day, and prayed for you, and your campus pastor, and your leadership teams there, and just love you so much. I want to give a special shout-out today to the men and women in the Alabama Department of Corrections.
One of the greatest parts of the story is how we've been able to bring who we are as a church into those facilities. And I just want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that we love you. You are our church family. We're so glad that you're with us. Yeah, if you feel like clapping. And then, of course, a bunch of you are still watching at home. Wherever you are, I hope you're safe and sound. And from wherever you are around the world, thank you for joining us for this very special celebration. Have so much I want to share with you. But before that, let me just tell you where we're going after today. And that is, next Sunday, we're starting a brand-new series, like we always do in the month of February, around the topic of relationships. And this year, we're calling it "Family Values".
I truly believe that one of the things that America needs more than ever is a return back to godly values. Can I hear a good amen? And so we're going to let the one who designed them to find them, and so that's starting next week, February 14th. Men, write that date down. That is very important for you to know. I just helped you out a whole lot. All right, so make sure you're aware of that date. Today, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary, and I want to show you a little video that our team... I say a little video. They worked for probably more than six weeks, our amazing video team literally through the night to get it done for today, just a history of these 20 years.
You say, "Why do we do that"? The Bible teaches us to "be careful and watch yourselves closely, so that you", say the next three words out loud, "so that you... so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live". In fact, "Teach them to your children". Tell the stories over and over and over and over and over. Tell the stories so that you can thank God and keep the values that got us to this place. My grandmother on my dad's side was probably my favorite grandparent. I loved them all, but I used to love to go to her house, and she loved to tell stories. She told stories about how they washed their clothes in a pot of boiling water over an open fire, and her values just come through. "Mama, tell me that story again. I want to hear that again, that story". Today, we're going to do that. We have a little history video to show you how we got to this place. And when it's done, I want you to just give Jesus all the praise and all the honor. Amen, everybody? Take a look.
Well, it really all began in 1999, when I literally had the worst year of my life. I went straight to my pastor after the time of prayer and fasting, and I shared my discontent, and my depression, and said, "But I really think the Lord wants to do something, and I don't know what it is". And he said, "Chris, it's because God's called you to be a senior pastor, and he will give you supernatural love for a city".
So, Tammy and I loaded up the van with all the kids, took our two-week vacation, and literally went to eight cities. The last one was Birmingham, because we had intended on attending the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament and was just, really, just thinking what a beautiful city. And I was just enjoying the view from that little outdoor café, looking down over the six lanes of Highway 280. And I'm telling you, as loud as I'm speaking, right now, I heard the Spirit of God say, "You're going to pastor some of the people down in that traffic jam".
Chris: You know, sometimes, when you get somewhere, you forget where you were and what it took to get you to this point. And now there are so many people that are here that never knew where it was 20 years ago. There weren't any books about church planting. There wasn't any money for church planting. But one of the exciting and scary parts of the beginning was what we didn't know. And now, looking back, you can see the hand of God, because I know what I knew about all of this and what I didn't know. And where we are isn't because of what I know. It's because of what God did.
Layne Schranz: Pastor Chris used to be my youth pastor, and we were so excited for them, the vision that he and Tammy had to move from Baton Rouge to Birmingham. And Pastor Chris made a statement I'll never forget. He said, "Someday, I'd love to have somebody like you help me start our student ministries; and most importantly, start a ministry school that would put young leaders into full-time ministry". Within a night or two, I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about, dreaming about, having visions about a city I'd never been to. We just knew that that's what we were supposed to do. What I did every day was recruit, recruit, recruit and asked as many of them as could to come to Birmingham and help us start a ministry school that would become Highlands College. We called it 24/7.
Kellen Coldiron: Pastor John and I, we were roommates in Colorado Springs, and we both agreed to come help start it up.
John Larson: The reason I came to Birmingham was that I had the chance to get in the game. I had the chance to not only learn about doing ministry but to actually do it.
Denny Hodges: Everyone did everything. That's also what made it so much fun.
Hamp Greene: I was like I was at Disney World having so much fun. So, the first Sunday, we had 400 people. The worship was kind of crazy for us. I'd been raised very, very traditional.
Colette Greene: And they're clapping. I was like, "We don't clap in church. Like, what are we doing"?
Robbin Sorrell: The presence of God was just amazing.
Dr. Robert Sorrell: Before going, I was like, "We're going to a high school"?
Allen Pedram: I do remember the feeling of, like, "Is this thing really going to last"? Like, this is all portable, and it felt like, "Okay, I'm not sure if this thing's like, you know, gonna work". But then, like, you'd go in the auditorium, you would serve and see people just loving every minute of it.
Chris: And then throughout the summer, I just started training leaders and building. But we were known now as the Dream Team.
Mark Pettus: I joined the set-up team, which was like, I don't know, 4 o'clock in the morning. I remember Pastor Steve Blair distinctly, you know, wearing a backpack vacuum cleaner and just being a part of that before the sun even came up.
Steve Blair: We arrived one morning, and there was a big dumpster in the roundabout. And we were like, "What are we going to do"? And this guy just gets his Jeep, and he wraps a chain around the dumpster and drags it out into the parking lot, and then after service drags it back. And I actually think he burned up his transmission doing it, but there was this can-do attitude.
John: After setup, I would go and lead worship. We all know what an Alabama summer is like, though. So, I'd be like in Mountain Brook High School's restrooms, like, doing a sponge bath, you know, trying to get all the sweat and get a jacket on or something like that and go out and lead worship. So, it was just a blast, you know? The visual of somebody raising their hand at the end of every service. It was hard work, but it was worth every minute of it.
Chris: And so we really didn't have a place to meet between Sundays at all. One of our very first members offered their home as a place to have Wednesday night leadership training meetings. I had no idea it was going to turn into our Wednesday night service.
Dr. Sorrell: You know, the first time there was maybe 30 people, and then 75 people.
Layne: They'd move all of their furniture out, and I think we could get about 100 plastic chairs in their living room and their foyer.
John: Pastor Chris would be in kind of a corner, and he'd have his keyboard out. You know, he'd be playing. And then, you know, somebody would kind of get a little excited, and they'd start, like, moving, maybe even dance a little bit, you know, just a little bit. And you'd feel, like, the living room floor like bounce up and down.
Layne: The floor began to move, so we realized we have outgrown the Sorrell's house. Went into the Eagle Point Clubhouse for several months, outgrew that. We moved in the Greystone Office Complex, and the momentum was still there.
Collette: He'd go, "Okay, now turn to John, and now turn to Acts," and you could just hear the pages. You just, you heard the diving into the Word. It was revival.
Kellen: It was evident, it was obvious that something was happening. It was something that God was doing, and it was supernatural, and people's lives were being changed, and they were encountering the presence of God.
Dino Rizzo: I could remember the first time I came and spoke here. It was on a Wednesday night down at the office. We did two services, which I'd never done that before. It was packed, couldn't even move around, because there were people sitting at my feet.
Collette: People would show up at 5. You know, 5:30, you're late. You're not even going to get a seat in the room.
Rusty Dorr: The place was always covered up, standing room only, and such a feeling of excitement. The atmosphere in that room was just amazing.
Steve: Pastor Chris began to teach on the Holy Spirit, and something just took place. It was like a rocket launch.
Gina Cox: There was an engagement level that was fundamentally different from anything we had ever experienced.
Steve: It got to the place to where on Wednesday nights there would be people that were tailgating in the parking lot, eating, waiting for the doors to open, and it was revival like I've never seen.
Layne: It sparked something supernatural. It was just unbelievable what was happening every Wednesday night and every Sunday.
Chris: No one was talking multisite back in the early 2000s. But what happened was there was a church in town. Pastor tragically died of a heart attack, and his widow called just a couple of weeks after the funeral and said, "Hey, we'd like for you to take our church". And I thought she meant leave Highlands and come be the pastor of this church. And I said, "Well, Susan, I already have a church. I can't do that". She goes, "No, no, no, just adopt us. We'll give you our facility, but we'd like to join Highlands". And that's where our second campus, that's how it began.
Blake Lindsey: We were just wondering. This concept sounds cool. Would this actually work together, an entire group of people in a separate venue. Put a message on a screen, have a team there locally that led all the other parts of the service. And could something like that actually grow? Could something like that actually work?
Chris: Oh, I was almost convinced that no one was going to show up to watch me on a screen. This is really a stretch. But you know what? We were given this facility. And so it only took us about three months to get it ready, as a video venue, and 780 people showed up.
Brandon Isbell: When we first started, my wife, she would come here and get the DVD. Pastor Hayes Kirby would run it down to her, and she would take it. It'd be like, "Hey, don't speed, but get there fast". You know? And she would take it to River Chase, so that we would have a copy.
Blake: How about the one time they forgot to send the DVD? And I found out about it during, literally, it was during meet and greet. And I looked up, and in the booth they were like, "We don't, we don't have the, we don't have the message". And I literally ran up to my office, and I had some messages I preached as a youth pastor, because I was still pretty fresh to Highlands at the time. And I threw the folder down, and messages went everywhere. And I sifted through the messages, and I found one, and I ran back down to the room just as meet and greet was ending, ran up onto the stage and preached that Sunday. So, to say that our method was archaic, it was archaic. We, literally, we drove a DVD. We drove a DVD.
Chris: We weren't even thinking multiple locations. We were thinking one location. In fact, the original dream was to build a 6,000-seat auditorium, because that was my model, up to that point. And so we were looking for a lot of land, and we found the 128 acres here on Grants Mill. The next thing you know, Grants Mill is born, and that was an important part of the journey.
Chris: This is a day that we, as a church, have looked forward to for so long. I can't hardly even believe that I'm standing here doing this, right now.
Steve: There was a moment of our church that people had been anticipating, and it was so cool just to look around and see the stadium seats full. Mr. Bob, Pastor Chris' father, was there. I remember seeing the smile on his face, knowing how hard he worked and how many years he'd prayed.
Denny: Dad was all up in that. And just to the point, where when the time came, we did find that land, that we could just make that purchase. I mean, we had the money in the bank, and I just couldn't believe it. Dad was making sure that not only was the church operating, but it was operating with margin.
Beth Cunningham: I remember going up to the second floor and looking down, and I remember being aware that I couldn't see a sliver of carpet, because there were just people everywhere. I thought, "Lord, what are you doing"?
Chris: Our church would go from 4,000 to 9,000, literally, in a couple of months.
Kellen: We had, had so many things happen before we built the Grants Mill campus. We had River Chase. We had campuses in other cities. And when we got the building, it just, it accelerated all of that. But really, our identity had already been set. We were portably minded. We were going to reach communities outside of Birmingham.
Allen: There was a hunger, there was a passion, but it was also, "I'm not going to settle for anything less. I want more of God, and I want to bring as many people along with me as I can".
John: Even though we're 20 years old, some of the old founding, like, ideas about church are happening every week.
Layne: This church was built on 21 days of prayer and fasting in January of 2001. We have had Saturday morning prayer every weekend that we have had church for the 20 years of our history.
John: I love the fact that there is an invitation to give your heart to the Lord after every service, and there has been for 20 years.
Chris: We started small groups when the church was six months old.
Mayo Sowell: And it made us, and it made our life so much easier, because we didn't have to come up with it on our own.
Allen: My first time at Switch, seeing it grow from, like, 40, 50, 70, I remember the first time, like, there was more than 100, you know, students here in this big box. You just really felt like you were on the beginning of something that wasn't going to stop.
Kellen: We didn't know where it was going to lead. If you would've shown us a picture of the Motion Conference at BJCC, it would've blown us away. We just invested in what was right in front of us. We've learned that on the other side of that can be some pretty spectacular things that we could've never anticipated: Dream Centers, prison ministries, launching one campus at a time by being faithful to God and his calling, and being faithful to stewarding the gifts that he's given us. The vision and mission has not changed at all.
Chris: At the end of the day, the church doesn't exist for the people that are here. It exists for the people that are not here, yet.
Layne: Therefore, that has turned into outreach small groups, first Saturday serve, serve day, grow, helping other churches do those same things, and about the ark, launching new life-giving churches.
Jamil Gilleylen: The Dream Center really equips us with so many resources to be able to go out into our communities within the city of Birmingham, and I'm just beyond grateful to be a part of something so supernatural, so purpose filled, and so special.
Dr. Robert Record: All I can say, "Look at what the Lord has done". We've seen people from all over the world come and learn how to love your neighbors right where they are. And it's the most amazing ride I could've ever imagined; in fact, way beyond I could've ever imagined.
Chris: From the very first year of the church, one of my deepest passions was to invest into young leaders. Still to this day, I think the deepest calling in my life is what we're doing through Highlands College.
Mark: It's been a vision that we would raise up leaders and that those leaders could impact the world from right here in Birmingham. It's incredible.
Chris: I think we'll look back at our 40th anniversary and say it's our greatest legacy.
Chris: Well, I think when you get to 20 years old, you can settle. I think it's very easy to say, "Look what we've done, look around and just kind of enjoy the ride from here on out". But I would want to remind our congregation and our church that we exist to reach people far from God just as much as we did when there was no one here. And it's really not about being bigger. There's not a single aspiration in my heart just to be bigger. What wakes me up every day, what makes me want to keep leading this organization with passion and excellence is that there are people far from God, who just need some hope, and need some light, and need the gospel explained to them in a way where they go, "Oh, I get it". And I think the thing that drives me more than anything else is people giving their life to Jesus and spending eternity in heaven with him.
Blake: No matter how many years old we get, I know that one thing will be consistent, and that is the heartbeat of who we are. Methods will change, but the mission never will.
Dino: Once we find life, we've gotta give life away, and that life is Jesus Christ, and it's been that way from day one.
Dr. Record: We've been able to do this thing that so few could even dream of, and it's just getting started.
Denny: You know how you get... you're going, and you're about to set that trip odometer setting back to zero. You're not really doing that, right? Because I mean, you have 20 years. You've got the investment, and God's been faithful, and you've got people who've been around you all this time, but at the same time, you've got that excitement of just going and pushing that thing. And that's how it feels right now.
Jamil: God has just done some amazing things on this ride that we've been on, so I can't wait to see what the next 20 years are going to look like.
Layne: What he has planned for us is something that we can't even imagine. We will have a greater impact in the next 20 than we ever had in the first 20.
Chris: But I promise you that God's got something in his heart and his mind that he wants to do that we're not planning, right now. And so we're getting older, but I don't want to get older. I want to be like a little child. I want us to stay giddy about a person getting saved. When someone lifts their hands, and we clap, I want it to be like we've never seen that before. I think that's key. I think as we get older, let's not get older. Let's be more mature. Let's do more, because we have more, but let's keep the same innocence and the same passion, the same excitement as we had when we began this 20 years ago.
Chris: Come on, anybody want to give Jesus praise, one more time? Yeah, stand on your feet and give God all the praise. Oh, you deserve it, Lord. It's pretty awesome, it's pretty awesome. Please be seated. So, you can't have a proper celebration if a Cajun is the pastor, unless there's some food. Can I get an amen, everybody? So, this is what you get when you get a guy from Louisiana. You get cookies on your way out that say, "20th Anniversary," so that's out there for you, just as a way to celebrate. And then we just finished this series called, "My Church". Jesus said, "I will build my church". So, we decided to get all of you a commemorative t-shirt that just says, "I love my church".
So, there you go. So, grab one of those on your way out, as well. I want to take a moment. We did a more, I would say more of a informal celebration on Wednesday night. If you wanted to hear my wife speak, you want to see my kids, who I honored, you want to hear from all five of our overseers, that was on Wednesday night, more of a heartwarming-type celebration. We'd love for you to go back and watch that. It's archived on our website. But I still want to take a moment, before I get into this very short message, and honor the original 34 people who launched this church. I want to honor some of the first attenders who just poured heart and soul, like Robert and Robbin Sorrell. I want to honor our trustees, our non-staff elders. I want to honor our overseers. I want to honor our staff, especially our lead team, but the 460 people now on staff who pour heart and soul into this, eight days a week. Come on, somebody.
I just really want to, I really want to just thank God for them, my family. Come on, give them a good hand. It's good, it's good to honor people. And so one of my fears, not really a fear, like in the wrong way, but one of my fears is to wake up, and we're just a normal church, that we just forgot some things, we just, we forgot where we came from, we forgot who we are. And I think one of the values of looking back and reminding ourselves of our values in this way is that you don't forget. You tell the stories. Keep telling the stories. And so I went through the Scriptures. It took me, like, two days. I went through the Scriptures, and I looked up, "Don't forget," "Never forget," those two phrases in literally 30 different translations of the Bible. It was so much fun. I really enjoyed doing that.
And I feel like the Lord put a message on my heart of some things that we can never forget. I found over 12, I think it was 15 when I finished my study, of things you should never forget. We don't have time for 15. Let me give you three. And that is, I think we should never forget that we're not a great church. We serve a great God. Amen, everybody? That's the first thing, honestly, when I think back of our story and when I tell the story of those who say, "How in the world did that happen"? And I really get that question from people who know me. "Like, how did that happen"?
You know, they know me better than you do, and they're more amazed that all this happened, like me. And I always go back first to how the church really started, and that is with 21 days of prayer. We have a February birthday, because we wanted the month of January to fast and pray, to seek God. Because I know to this day that we're not this good. We know how to do some things. It's not like we're bad at this, but we're not this good. We're not as good as people think we are. We serve a great God who did all of this. I know that, and that's why I'm desperate to worship God. I'm desperate to get up in the morning and seek God every day. I do it out of my love for God, but I also do it out of the fact that I don't want to do this without him.
I pray a prayer on the side, while the news is playing, that five minutes of video news. I'm drinking some water, having a little mint over there, just kind of wet my whistle, because I speak a lot. I'm just over there kind of getting my game face on. I've got a little sign over there that says it's a privilege to be on this stage. Thank you, God, for choosing me, with my hand on it. You can come look at it sometime. My hand's on it. I pray. And here's my prayer: "Please don't send me out there unless you come, please. Please, please don't make me go out there unless your presence comes with me".
And that's why all these years we've been seeking God, studying his Word. We're going to continue to study his Word. My mind goes back to the summer of 2003-2004, when we were in that little office complex behind the Lloyd's, behind the Skates 280, that was behind the Lloyd's. I mean, you could hardly find this little office front that we were renting, 230 seats, and people just, during the summer, not during the times that people normally come to church. I'm talking about during vacation season, packed out with people just hungry for God. And all I was doing was teaching the power of God, going verse-by-verse through the book of Acts, talking about the person of the Holy Spirit, which, by the way, you're getting a book of Acts and Holy Spirit series this year.
We're going after God, just like we did all those years ago. Why? Because we need God. You need God. And I'll tell you, you're not good enough to be a husband, you're not good enough to be a wife, you're not good enough. I don't care how many degrees you have. You need God on your job and with your family. We need God. Deuteronomy says that when God, your God, ushers you into a land, like, you get success, through your ancestors, like, you have all this success. It says you're going to walk into large auditoriums filled with 60,000 people, bustling cities you didn't build, well-furnished houses. Actually, guess what? You didn't buy that. Come up upon wells you didn't dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn't plant.
In other words, you didn't do this. And "When you take it all in," the Bible says, "and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don't forget how you got there". And so what do we do? I'm asking you, moving forward in the next 20, that let's continually seek God's presence over our own efforts. Can I hear a good amen, everybody? That's the first thing. You've just gotta know that. Never forget, never forget, we need God in our life. Here's the second thing we can never forget, and that is never forget that we take next steps spiritually, and we help others do the same. We are a next steps church.
In other words, we're not an event church. We're not a carve out an hour and 15 minutes on a Sunday church. We're not that. No, no, no, we believe that God has great things for us. We believe that God wants to do a work inside of you. And I would love for you to lean in here for a second and hear this. He's not done with you, yet, either. He still has more for you. And a lot of people settle, like, "Well, okay, I'm saved, got my fire insurance, I'm going to heaven". No, no, no, the greatest joy of Christianity is that your life can be changed, and God can do this deep work on the inside of you. So, we believe in next steps.
And there's really two types of people here. You're either taking next steps, or you're helping others take those steps. And the thing that I love the most, if you don't know what really, it just warms my heart more than anything else: life change, life change. Just two Sundays ago, I was hanging out here about five minutes before the service, pre-rolls play, and people are visiting and all that. And this guy from this section right over here walks over. I saw him walking toward me. And he was tatted from head to toe. I mean, his face, neck, arms, everything, everything was tatted. He had this, he had this look on his body like, I was only imagining his story, as he was walking toward me. Like, you could see that he had, had a rough journey. But on this part of his face, he looked as innocent as a little child. His eyes were gleaming, tears coming down his face, the most beautiful smile I have seen, honestly, in a long time, and just, you could see the gratitude and just the innocence on his face.
And he said, "Pastor Chris, I gave my life to Jesus in one of the correctional facilities, and this is my first Sunday out, and I just had to come meet you. And please tell the church, 'Thank you! Thank you for coming in to those facilities. Thank you for loving us.' It meant so much to us". And I just cried. And I'm just here to tell you he wants to do the same thing in you, too. There is more life change for you. You call out to God, guess what? You call out to God for help, and he'll help. Can we just stop there and thank God for that? If you'll call out to God for help, guess what? He'll help, and he's a good Father that way. But watch this next line. He kind of transitions. "But don't forget..."
There's the verses that made me find this Scripture. "Don't forget, he's also a responsible Father, and he won't let you get by with sloppy living". So, you can go to heaven being mean, but guess what? You don't have to be mean. And you can go to heaven, you know, just with maybe not the best marriage. But guess what? You can have a better marriage. 'Cause all it takes is Jesus to get to heaven. But guess what? God has more for you. "Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God". And I'm inviting you into that. I'll never forget, 20 years ago, you know, when you start something brand-new, it's very important for you to define what you're going to call success. Every organization, families should do it.
What are we going to say to call it, when is it successful? How do you know when you've crossed the line? And in the church world, most celebrate attendance and offerings. I call it nickels and noses, and it's not enough. We decided years ago that would never be our measurement of success. We were going to call success when people were moving from where they were to where God wanted them to be, that we would define a journey, a pathway. We believe that God has great things for you. So, for 20 years, we've said, "You can know God". That's the first step. And when we say, "Know God," we mean you can be in a relationship with him, that Christianity is not church attendance. Christianity is not your belief system. Christianity is not the fact that you own a Bible and say a prayer. Christianity is when you're in a relationship with God, not religion.
And then after you're in this relationship, he'll take you down a pathway called "Freedom". You can find freedom. You can start working through those issues, so that there's a better version of you. And you can stay where you are or, or you can say, "You know what? My life would be better if these things would not be in my life, and so I'm going to allow myself to get in a small group and to work through some things". And by the way, more than 4,100 small groups start today. We've already added another 1,000 since last Sunday, and you can get a chance now to get in a group. Get in a group and start working through, and get close to people and take off some masks. Watch the message from last week. And then once you've done that, we also invite you to get on a growth track, so you can discover your purpose.
Look in my eyes. You have a purpose, and it's not survival. It's significance. God has something for you, just as much as he has for me. I am no more called than you are called. I'm telling you this. You have a call on your life. The two greatest days of your life: the day you were born and then the day you discovered why you were born. And so we put together a growth track; which by the way, I have to confess over the years has become kind of efficient but has lost some of its secret sauce. And so we've had meetings for probably six months on how we were going to return our growth track back to its original feel; because years ago, we used to have step one of the growth track, our membership class had pork tenderloin and wedding cake. Can I get a better amen, somebody?
So, guess what? Tonight, we're starting a brand-new growth track. We've re-recorded everything. We've rewritten everything, back to the original, and there is food and dessert, everybody. So just, you might want to join the church all over again, tonight. I mean, you might want to. But ultimately, so all of us get back doing what we're called to do, and that is make a difference, make a difference, make a difference. And so for 20 years, I've given you a challenge that literally tens of thousands of people have accepted this challenge, and that is... let me prove it to you. So, let me prove it to you. If you doubt what I have just said, that God has a better life for you, then let me prove it to you, and I'm asking for a year, and it won't even take that long, but I'm asking, give me a year, and I'm asking you go all-in.
And if you come back in a year, and you come back on our 21st anniversary, and your life isn't remarkably changed, I'll go to another church with you. I'll resign. I'll go with you, but I won't have to. In fact, people have been asking me all week, 'cause they're feeling the warm fuzzies, and their life has been touched, and that's what I've heard all week long, "What can we do for you? What can we do for you? Is there something we can do for you"? Like, no, no, no. First of all, it's not about me. This is not about me. This is about God. This is not my church. This is his church. It's not about me. So, no, no, no, there's nothing you can do. I'm very well taken care of. You know what? I changed my mind.
There is something you can do for me. I thought of something, everybody. I have a gift I would like for you to give me for the 20th anniversary, and that is go all-in. Honestly, nothing would make me happier than you... I would love for you to grab the passion of the people you saw in that video. I'm asking for your time, your money, your ideas, your values. Just pour your life into this like we all did, and watch, and then 20 years from now, you'll be in the video. Yeah, that's what I'm asking for. I changed my mind. The third thing I would like for us never forget is that we don't go to church. We are the church.
So, we decided that we weren't going to be a place that, okay, I'm glad we were able to provide you a Sunday. Okay, that's what we do. No, no, no, we don't just go to church. That is a very small part of who we are. We are the church, we are the church. The church does not exist for us. We exist for the world, and we've been saying that for 20 years, and that's when 2020 happened, and I say this very humbly, we were ready for it, honestly. And that's why in March of 2020, when other medical institutions were still trying to figure out how to test people, we were one of the first... lines, 11,700 COVID-19 tests at a church, everybody, when they were getting prayer and love.
And last year, alone, you served and you gave toward 1.4 million meals to families. We did disaster relief in over 1,200 different locations and homes, where trees had fallen on their houses, or they were hit by Hurricane Sally, or the different things that happened in 2020. And I would just like to say that's what it's all about. We weren't here just to have a place to sing three songs and hear the best messages of your entire life. Y'all didn't have to laugh that hard. We were here to be mobilized, energized, get a mission on the inside of us to go out there and change the world and make a difference with our lives. That's what we were created to do. So, don't forget the foreigner. I love this verse. I'd never seen this verse before, when I did my "Don't Forget" study, "Don't forget the foreigner who's not a member".
Don't stop now and say, "Okay, we have our church". No, no, let's always not forget the person who doesn't go here, yet. Don't forget that's not a member of your people, of Israel, but that's come from a far country, and that's far meaning like got in their sin, and they got in their life, and they're looking at you and wishing they could be a part. People are going to be attracted here by your great reputation. I mean, that's the one that only God could've done, your wonder-working power, those who come to pray at this temple. And that's why we need to continue to create creative ways to reach people with the gospel, and just keep building auditoriums, so that we can have seats for those, because it's not about us.
It's about those who are not here, yet. One of the things that I want to honor you for is that over these past 20 years, we've been able to organize ourselves in such a way where we always take care of you, first. You give so that we take care of you, but you don't give just for you. You, like me, we wanted to touch and change the world, and I'm happy to let you know that just this year, we have given over 100 million dollars away to missions, over our 20 years. Church planting. Come on, let's give God praise for that. Here's another "Don't Forget" verse I found. You're Christ's body. That's who you are. You're not seat number 12 on the third row, back to this... no, you're a part of the body. We need you. We need you like we needed those 34, 20 years ago.
So, you must never forget this, that we function well without you, but we function better with you. Like, I cut a finger off, I'll still wave, and I'll still be able to hold things with four fingers, but it would be better with you, because you're a part of the body. And only as you accept your part of this body does your part mean anything; otherwise, what happens is... and I just don't want this to happen, we fall into the consumerism trap. I had somebody say the other day the most ridiculous statement, "I'm looking for a church that meets my needs". I mean, I understand a little bit of that, but it's really, that's not what it's all about. That's spiritual consumerism.
We are not spiritual consumers. We are spiritual contributors. We're here to do something that makes a difference, and I'm inviting you into it. I'm inviting you, personally inviting you like I did the 34 people 20 years ago to take the next 20-year journey, and here's my prayer. Here's my closing. It's another "Don't Forget" verse, by the way. There's a bunch, they're great. "As you live this new life, I pray that you, Church of the Highlands, stepping into the next season together, are strengthened from God's boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with courage".
So, we're still going to have bad days. But guess what? We're going to get through it. For we must never forget, this is why I do it: "that he rescued me from the power of darkness and re-established me," gave me a spot called Church of the Highlands. I can't believe it. And he put me in the kingdom of light. For it is by his Son alone, Jesus gets all the praise, that we have been redeemed, and we have had our sins forgiven. He didn't owe us this. He didn't owe me anything. He gave us this, and we thank God for an amazing 20 years. One more time, would you show your love to God?
So, for 20 years, I've given people a chance to know God. So, I'm going to tell you, with every head unbowed and every eye open, this is a chance for you to say, "It's time, it's time". Not to go all-in with the church. I don't invite you to that, but to go all-in with God. It's time. So, let's go, let's do it. I mean, why be a nominal Christian. Why just get into heaven? I'm inviting you to know him passionately, like the kind of love you would sit on a stage to hear the Scriptures. I'm inviting you to finally deal with that area of your life that just shouldn't be in your life; and if it wasn't in your life, your life would be so much better. And to find out if you're a camera person, or a guitar person, or a children's church person, or you just have the best broom-sweeping skills in the world. Find it, let's go, let's go. And how about 20 years, let's go make a difference? And it begins with the first thing, "Know God".
Now close your eyes. And I'm going to keep the service at every location. Normally, I pass it to the campus pastors, but we have a very special ending you don't want to miss. And so if you're here today and you say, "Chris, it's time," I'm even talking to Christians who just, you just know you're not close to God like you need to be, but you want to use this marker, this date, this 20th anniversary date to say, "This was the day I went all-in with God". I do want to pray for you, and I am going to ask you to be bold by letting God know.
So, I've said this for 20 years. We're not going to make you stand up or come to the front of the room, but you need to let God know. Don't be ashamed. And if you want to be included in this prayer of commitment to God, lift your hand, right now, at every location. Lift it high. Let's go, let's go, come on, yeah, there it is. Yes, yes, yes, yes, I know it's happening at your location. It's just time, it's just time, good. It's my favorite part of the service, always has been. And why don't all of us, every voice, pray it together. Let's join with them. Come on, say it strong. Say:
Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross and paying for my sin. Thank you for forgiving me. Today, I surrender my life. Everything, I give my life to you. I'm going all-in. Change me, save me, forgive me. And the best way I know how, I'm going to serve you with everything. In your name I pray, amen.