Reaching a million people for Christ in the state of Indiana.
WORDS // Jeff Stanger
Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now
“We’re going to give away twenty cents of every dollar we make, starting the first day we open for business,” said no sensible business plan ever. Try getting a loan with that business model. And if that doesn’t get you laughed out of the room, try telling the loan officer your goal is to give away 50% of your revenue in a few years. Couldn’t happen, right? Well, in Carmel, Indiana it is happening at a startup church called Mercy Road.
Not to mention Mercy Road is giving their people away as well, encouraging regular attendees to go start other churches. Their volunteers—arguably the most precious asset a young church has—are urged to volunteer for those other churches. And those who stay are empowered, through outposts (mission-focused small groups), to go out and find their own unique ways to serve the community.
Most church planters would say that’s not how to start a church. But this isn’t most church plant stories. This is the story of Mercy Road, and their quest to “Live Boldly, Love Deeply.”
It Takes Faith, Obedience & Your High School Yearbook
Sort of like what Abraham experienced when God told him to head to the promised land, it started with a word from God and a long journey for Mercy Road Church’s Lead Pastor, Josh Husmann. “I was working at a megachurch in California and thought I would be there forever, working with young adults. I had this experience—I don’t say this lightly—I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” admits Josh. “As I was praying, I believe that God was asking my family and me to move from Southern California to Indiana and start a church, and three friends of mine from high school would help us.”
But even with a strong faith, you can have doubts. “I thought I was nuts. On top of that, my wife is from California, and I just knew there was no chance she would do it. But, I told her I thought we should do this and she prayed some and said, ‘Yeah I think we should do it,’” says Josh. “Within six months we were living in Indiana and starting a church.”
Of course, Josh wasn’t nuts. God delivered, right down to the last detail. Of the first fifty people Josh asked, the only three that said they would help were those three friends of his from high school. “One of them wasn’t even a Christian! One of them was living in California working for Entertainment Tonight. One of them even came up with the name for the church.”
Different From Day One
If you want to truly understand the culture of Mercy Road, you have to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit. Josh can remember early on in college learning about entrepreneurship. “And I was just beginning to realize some of us are just wired that way,” says Josh. “Spiritual Entrepreneurship is what really drives my life. Seeing new people come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior through new initiatives.”
One of his early influences, Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor of Life Church, had a quote that helped shape the vision of Mercy Road, “he says, ‘if you want to reach people that aren’t being reached you have to do things that others aren’t doing.’ And I think for us, we really live that out,” says Josh.
For this reason, Mercy Road wants to be known more for its sending capacity than its seating capacity. You’ll often hear that coming from Josh’s mouth, but for him, it’s more than just lip service. For he and his congregation, it means sacrificing creature comforts for all kinds of unusual ideas. Starting with the body of the church itself, it means everyone is a part of the vision.
“The era of the professional Christian, where only the person on the stage has the right answers, or only the person behind a curtain has the right way to connect with God—that day has to come to an end. Because the reality is, it’s unbiblical,” explains Josh, who believes Christian business and nonprofit leaders can truly change the world. “The people in the business world, who all we ask of them in our local churches is to shake hands at the front door and hand out donuts, God could also use them to do so much more.”
The era of the professional Christian, where only the person on the stage has the right answers, or only the person behind a curtain has the right way to connect with God—that day has to come to an end. Because the reality is, it’s unbiblical.
A New Approach
The way that we did church fifty years ago is dramatically different from the way that people do church today. Fifty years from now will have to look different too. Mercy Road recognizes that, but that doesn’t mean the Gospel will change. “The core values, the orthodox biblical beliefs, those don’t change. But the way we live that out, that has to change. We adapt. Paul was constantly adapting his message to the context he was in.”
Josh challenges Christian leaders and pastors to continually take the truth of the gospel and innovate ways to reach people for Christ in the culture. He challenges the notion that church is just “attend a worship service, receive some teaching, give financially, and then we hope that does something.” According to Josh, churches are starting to see and acknowledge that they exist to make a difference in the here and now that will last for eternity, all with the bottom line of people knowing and experiencing the love of Jesus Christ.
“Living Boldly, Loving Deeply” In Action
Seven years later, Mercy Road is still defying conventional wisdom and right now, giving 37% of their resources away. And if you think that only a church could do something so audacious, think again. In this church culture, they make no distinction between the work of the pastor and the work of the people in the chairs. Josh shares, “I talked to a local business leader that runs a company that supports 300 missionaries all over the world. It would have been an injustice to the works of Jesus if that guy had been a pastor. He was doing exactly what he needed to do and had the ability to recognize that God could use his gifts to change the world.”
Giving outside the walls takes many forms at Mercy Road. Outposts, outward-focused small groups that meet in homes, have supported, or in some cases, started new ministries. Ministries that think outside the box—like an outreach ministry centered around people who love WWE wrestling, or a ministry-turned-501c3 that uses extreme couponing to start and stock a permanent hygiene pantry for families in need. When an outpost has an idea, they can apply for a matching grant from the church to help cover the cost to carry out what God has called them to do.
Mercy Road has also helped launch other startup churches in the area, including among others, Hope City Church and Echo Church. This experience led to organizing the Multiply Indiana church-planting network, whose vision is aimed at reaching the entire state of Indiana for Christ. More recently, Multiply Resources, which includes under its umbrella Multiply Magazine, Multiply Records, and the Multiply Conference were developed to empower and equip all kinds of apostolically-gifted believers to reach their spheres of influence in the unique and innovative ways God has called them to. Just like He did in the formation of the first church.
“There are so many people in the business world or the nonprofit world who are grinding it out every single day and feeling like they’re not doing what God created them to do,” says Josh. Some of them are feeling guilty because they’re not using their talents and abilities to be a pastor at their local church. It’s just sad because if they could become the person God created them to be, it doesn’t mean they are all going to be pastors working at a church. It means they could be the best version of Jesus they could be in their context. And they’re going to be great business leaders and great nonprofit leaders and they’re going to change the world.”
In other words, all of us can live boldly and love deeply.