Updated: Apr 29, 2019
The Quick Check
With a website that gives way more information on their church than others, this Check was almost a pleasure to do at first, even if I still couldn’t get anyone to answer my questionnaire. The helpfulness of the website alone made me want the church to be better than others. So bad.
This popular church puts on the face of grace just like all the others, but just like we did with Real Life Ministries, all it took was a little digging, understanding the language that many legalistic churches use on people, and listening to the sermon to realize the truth. It's just legalism with a prettier face.
I can't find any financial information about The Rock Church online and three separate pastors at their church have completely ignored my emails for the questionnaire, but they do claim that they have a full financial report available upon request on the website. Who knows? Maybe someone will eventually answer me and get me that report!
Unfortunately, though, they do preach tithing to an extent. It's sketchy. See for yourself in the Full Check.
The Grace Scale:
The Political Scale:
At first, I almost gave them a Lukewarm Laodicea, because the appearance of grace was so convincing. But then after listening to the sermon, I knew I couldn't stay on the fence.
The Full Check
I have to tell you guys, at first, I was pleasantly surprised by the website for The Rock Church. I thought, "wow, they really provide a lot of information here. They have nothing to hide!" After doing Calvary Chapel's Check and being left with so little information at my disposal from their website, as well as K2's, and then seeing The Rock's Church's site, I'd all but forgotten about Real Life Ministries.
And that's what I discovered The Rock Church to be, basically. Just another Real Life Ministries.
Unlike K2 and Calvary Chapel, The Rock Church's website is jam packed full of virtually everything I needed to know without speaking to a single person. Almost everything, that is. But unlike Real Life Ministries, in my opinion, they do a better job of appearing gracious while nearly all of the same legalistic burdens lay hidden just beneath the surface.
But I'll explain all of that later on. Let’s get to it, people. Today we’re Checking out The Rock Church in Draper, Utah.
About the Church
On their website if you go to their Who We Are tab and then the About The Rock page, you’ll find this description of the church (emphasis is mine):
“The Rock is a revolution in church. We believe Jesus Christ was the ultimate revolutionary for social and spiritual change. Our foundation is His Word, the Bible. Without watering down or compromising the truth of the Bible, we seek to incorporate Christ’s teachings and values into our everyday lives. We’re committed to loving our enemies, refusing to judge people, being kind, and treating others as we wish to be treated. We seek to love as God loves.
As a group, we focus on God and people, not tradition or ritual. We aren’t interested in the status quo, or in keeping old conventions. We want to change the perception of church, and what people experience when they attend. Our vision is simple: One life at a time, one world in our lifetime.
When you walk inside the doors of The Rock Church, you’ll find a relaxed, casual environment, meaningful teachings, and spectacular music. You’ll find a place where spiritual exploration and growth is non threatening and exciting, a place to celebrate God’s existence, and to engage in the new life that is available through His Son, Jesus Christ.
For many, church attendance has been a bad experience. We recognize that, by the thousands, people have stopped attending church because they feel it’s been nothing more than a broken and ineffective experience with a hypocritical institution. That’s why it’s time for a change — meaningful, effective, revolutionary change.
We think there is a place for something new, and The Rock Church is that place. We seek to work together, in unity, to reach the world for Jesus Christ, starting here in Utah.
Welcome to the revolution.”
I enjoyed some of what they say here, but there are a few red flags to note. I've put them in bold.
The call for "social and spiritual change." Just like RLM, they use Jesus as their reason and justification to call for social and spiritual change. What does that mean? They don't really explain that here, but if you ask me, it sounds like they're conflating social and spiritual issues with the idea that if you control peoples' social lives, you can control their spiritual lives. This is the farce of Small Groups in the modern day Christian Church. To hold people "accountable," or in other words, to keep people under their control. If I'm right about this interpretation, I don't like it.
“Meaningful teachings” and “spectacular music”, to me, translates to “self help seminars with cherry picked Bible verses” and “an entertaining show where worshiping God is secondary to praising the worship team.” At least, that’s been my experience.
Any time I see the word “engage” on a church website or when I hear a pastor use it at the beginning of a sermon, I think it’s code for “you must be active in the church in order to be a good Christian.” So, this worries me.
They say one reason thousands of people have stopped going to church is because it was an “ineffective experience”. Well, first, it’s not thousands of people. It’s millions. Secondly, everyone I know that stopped going to church say it had nothing to do with having an ineffective experience.
It has to do with pastors who can’t answer questions about the Bible, small group leaders who judge and condemn people for “living in sin,” and churches trying too hard to give people an "effective experience" rather than just the truth. The fake, superficial business mentality that too many churches espouse now is a huge turn off for genuine seekers of the truth and people actually interested in learning about God and the Bible. They don't want to play church and hand their life over to some authority figure on Earth. They want to find God. The Church gives them religion.
So once again, I’m seeing red flags before I even have a chance to get some questions answered. A quick tip to those of you who prefer to check churches yourself, if you ever see one of my checks and think “there’s no way I’m going to spend that much time and put that much effort into figuring out a church,” just listen.
As little information as churches try to reveal on their websites, they almost always reveal something of note. So, if you’re short on time but want to know what to look for to get to the bottom of a church without the hours of research, just look for the red flags like these ones in the About Our Church page of their website. Real Life Ministries did the same thing and made their legalism clear from the get-go. You just have to know the language.
This church is telling me with these red flags that they are going to overwhelm me with an awesome “experience,” a topical sermon that will be “meaningful” but far from a contextual study of the Bible, with a dash of gracious language while at the same time, I will most definitely be pressured into being “engaged” with the church.
But enough rambling. Let’s move on.
Once again, folks, I’m forced to find the answers myself. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise anymore. I have a feeling I’m going to be doing this for a while. At least until Check My Church becomes more popular and churches start waking up to the fact that no one is going to attend their church unless they start being open and honest about some things.
Until then though, looks like I’m stuck handing out negative reviews to these guys, because they won't answer my questions.
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
On their FAQ’s Page, which I’m SO happy that they have, I found this answer to the question, “How much should I give?”
“Whatever you decide to give, it’s important that you give from your heart. A gift given begrudgingly is not a desirable gift in God’s eyes. In the Old Testament, people gave ten percent of their income to support the ministry of God. This was called the “tithe.” In addition to the tithe, people gave offerings for special projects and to help the needy. Our belief is that God would desire us to follow similar principles of giving today. When people give to the church in accordance to the amount with which God has blessed them, the needs of our church are easily met. This is God’s design for providing the financial resources for the church’s current and future needs.”
To me, this sounds like they preach tithing. They’ve worded it in such a way that sounds much less serious and condemning than other churches, but at the end of day, it does in fact appear that they preach it.
They start out with the right attitude, saying “whatever you decide to give, it’s important that you give from you heart,” but then it seems like they’re making a case for you deciding to give from you heart however much they want from you, which is 10% of your income.
2. Does your church have a particular set of rules or requirements that members must follow or abide by in order to retain their membership status with the church?
Nothing on their website suggests they have a legalistic system like we find in so many other Christian churches today. The general attitude on the website, besides the pushing of tithing and the red flags in the About Us section, seems to be very gracious otherwise.
For all we know, however, they do have a class where you must sign an agreement, just like at RLM and other churches. But they don't say so on the website, so for now, we don't know that.
3. What is your church's official position on the doctrine of salvation? Through grace, works, both?
Their position on salvation is clear on their website in the Statement of Faith:
“Men and women are freed from the penalty for their sins not as a result of their own works, goodness, or religious ceremony, but by the undeserved favor of God alone. God declares righteous all who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation.”
4. Are you transparent with your church's financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, and how is that money distributed? What do your profit on average?
They do have an answer to this, sort of, on their FAQ’s Page:
“Although we’d really like you to think in terms of giving to God rather than to the church, we know that you want to give to an organization that is faithful with how it spends its money. About 70-75 percent of our contributions get spent in three relatively fixed areas of expense — personnel, missions, and facilities. Other expenses include children’s ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth ministry, outreach, benevolence, recordings, storefront, hospitality, etc. A full annual financial report is available upon request.”
I’ve emailed three of the pastors at The Rock Church. It’s been four days since my initial email to one of the head pastors there and I’ve gotten no response. If a full financial report is available, I’m hoping to eventually get it from one of them to show in the Check. So far, however, this seems to be all talk.
5. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
Once again their FAQ’s page proves to be extremely helpful:
“The Rock church is part of a larger association of churches known as the Great Commission Churches (GCC). GCC is a U.S. based fellowship of autonomous churches designed to equip, unite and provide accountability to churches and ministries that have a desire to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. The heart of GCC is that churches will model “New Testament Christianity in Action Today.” GCC promotes conferences, mission opportunities, offers accountability and mediation services for member churches. Great Commission Churches is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. For more information on the Great Commission Churches, please visit their website.”
So it seems, like Calvary Chapel, The Rock is a part of its own denomination as well.
6. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
So far, not through email or Facebook Messenger. I guess I have to physically walk up to these guys to get any answers. Maybe that’s what I’ll end up having to do. In the meantime, it seems the answer to this is “no”.
Just like Real Life Ministries, huh? Weird.
7. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled? Does the church change its position on doctrines fairly often, if at all?
This I couldn’t find any information on their website for, which is understandable. It’s a very specific question...which is why they should answer my emails.
Dear Churches: When you don't answer our questions, we're left to assume the worst. How do we know you won't throw us out on our tush once we ask a question about your specific doctrinal position on something? We don't.
8. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
Unlike Calvary Chapel and a few other churches we’ve checked, The Rock doesn’t appear to have a class that you are required to take before they will baptize you. They simply make their case for getting baptized on their Baptism page on the site, and allow you sign up if you’d like to do it. They also make it clear that baptism is not necessary for salvation. Read their position on their website here: http://www.experiencetherock.com/resources/baptism/.
9. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
We’re about to describe that for you!
10. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
According to the website, The Rock Church has 8 pastors, 17 deacons, and 7 additional staff members. Since they won’t answer my email, however, I have no idea how many are paid or volunteer, or if they have more than is listed on the website.
11. What is the pastor's educational history?
As it is explained on their FAQ’s page, their pastors do not typically hold a traditional seminary degree. Here is their explanation:
“Our pastors have been trained for years through formal and informal leadership training classes within local GCC churches in Colorado, Utah and Iowa. GCC also practices apprentice-style leadership training, which provides much hands-on preparation for pastoral ministry. For instance, Pastor Bill has been in this type of training since 1991 and now helps train others. He actually has a degree in industrial engineering from Iowa State University, but has been a full-time pastor since 1992 and has planted four churches in Colorado and Utah.”
I don’t personally have a problem with this, but some Christians might.
12. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
I won’t know this unless they decide to tell me, but based on what I’ve read on their website, I’m betting this is mostly handled within small groups, which they don’t really pressure people into joining from what I’ve read. They have nothing on the website that suggests they do any type of disciplining members of their sin.
13. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
Unless they answer me, I have no way of knowing this. They have so many pastors and I'm not even sure which one is the lead pastor. I’m also not sure of how many members their church has, or how many of those members donate regularly. There's just no way of knowing this until they tell me, or until I can find out more about them online.
14. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
Like I said, I don’t know this without them answering me. I can tell you they have over 600 Likes and Followers on Facebook, and if that’s any clue to how many people there are in their church, as they’ve been fairly accurate with SMCC, we can guess that they have at least a few hundred members.
I’ve never physically attended The Rock, however, so I don’t know how large their building is.
In conclusion to the questionnaire, since no one at this church has even responded to my email, and they appear to preach tithing, it’s a thumbs down here. Unless they can give me some information that I’m not getting from their website and clarify their stance on tithing, and be transparent with their finances, it will probably stay that way.
The Worship Service
Okay, enough with the uncertainty. Onto something I can actually review with confidence. The worship service.
Aaaannd it’s a rock show.
Here is an example of the one at The Rock, if you need one:
And once again, the comments are all about the band, the performers. It’s a worship service, and somehow it’s been made into a performance that’s all about the worshipers, rather than the God being worshiped.
Oh, boy. My favorite part. Here we go!
Is the sermon topical or a verse by verse study of the Bible?
It appears to be topical. The name of the series is “Get Wisdom” with a subtitle of “from the book of Proverbs,” and the topic for today’s sermon, which I took from January 6th, is “Heart Doctor.” You can watch it here if you'd like to see what I'm talking about.
On a positive note, at least they mention the Bible in the subtitle of the series. And at least the title of the series “Get Wisdom” is a phrase taken from the Bible, from the book of Proverbs.
On the negative side though, the book of Proverbs is probably only being used because it has applicable messages to people's’ lives, whereas the New Testament is all about our faith in Jesus Christ. The decision to choose Proverbs over something more focused on Jesus and our faith was probably a decision that was made to please people rather than please God, and I don’t care too much for that, but let’s wait until after the sermon to determine that.
Let’s see how contextual it actually is to Proverbs, shall we?
Is the Bible used frequently and in context, or is it only used out of context to support the topical sermon?
Pastor Josh Whitney begins the sermon by explaining why they chose the series topic of “Get Wisdom.”
“Why? Because wisdom is absolutely essential for life.”
For me, this is a red flag statement that translates to, ‘We’re not going to focus on the Bible too much. We’re going to focus on you, and there will be a lot of verses cherry picked out of context to make that possible.’
He then goes on to explain that we are going through the book of Proverbs because it gives a lot of wisdom on many important issues of life, and today will be issues of the heart, hence today’s topical sermon being entitled “Heart Doctor.”
So while he uses the Bible very frequently, Proverbs to be specific, and somewhat in context, sometimes, it’s still not a real contextual verse by verse study of Proverbs, which is what I was hoping for.
Is the heart of the sermon about the Word, God, Jesus, or the Gospel? Or is it more of a self help speech designed to be more applicable to people?
Although the Bible is used quite a bit, which I like, the heart of the matter is really what you get out of it, which is wisdom on matters of the heart. Heh. But the question is, is the wisdom being given an accurate, contextual interpretation of what the Bible says on matters of the heart?
While this sermon does focus more on the Bible, God, the Gospel and Jesus more than other topical sermons I’ve heard lately, the Word is still neglected too much in favor of the pastor’s own ideas. That is just the nature of how topical sermons work. I really would have loved to hear a contextual verse by verse study through Proverbs, but once I realized that’s not what he was going to do, I was disappointed.
The point in the end was to give a self help speech of sorts. It just didn’t feel like the typical megachurch self help speech because it spent more time condemning people than tickling their ears. It wasn't necessarily to make you feel better. It might have been to make them feel better. Because legalistic Christians have a tendency to openly scold and out people they believe are "living in sin." This pastor appears to just being doing that.
So my guess is their idea of "not watering down" the truth of the Bible is to condemn people for doing things they, the church, don't approve of.
Pastor Josh eventually gets to the main focus of the sermon and begins guilting people for watching maturely rated movies and television shows on Netflix, calling them "garbage."
How gracious, but I don’t think Proverbs actually says anything about that. Yes, it says to guard your heart, but what does that mean? Well, this pastor just decided it means that you shouldn’t watch maturely rated movies and television shows.
I don't know, guys. Sounds like a Mormon level of legalism if you ask me.
This is what I think happens when we don’t study the Bible in context verse by verse. Instead of receiving whatever message it is the Bible is actually giving us by just reading what it says, we cherry pick verses and take them out of context to support whatever message we want to get across, or whatever message we want to hear.
Even if the message has good intentions and might be Biblically based in some way, such as matters of the heart, if we don’t actually read the Word in context, we’re forced to come up with our ideas on those matters. And then we judge and condemn Christians who don't see it the same way.
All in all, the tone of the sermon was different than other topical sermons I’ve heard, but the point in my mind went something like this:
This is what you should think about certain matters of the heart based on cherry picked verses taken out of context in the book of Proverbs. I talked a lot about what the definition of a proverb is and who Solomon was, so that means I know what this really means. Now, stop watching maturely rated movies, listening to evil music and spend more time with Christians, because they're going to control you and your sin better than non-Christians, who aren't godly enough to assume that your spiritual life is any of their business.
While there were certainly good points to the sermon, which I did agree with, and while it was better than other topical sermons I’ve heard because it does seem to focus more on what the Bible is actually saying (however misinterpreted it may be in the end), the topical nature of it and the condemning attitude of the pastor was a huge turn off for me.
It was basically one guy’s opinion of how you should guard your heart as a Christian, but to follow it as Gospel would be legalistic and backwards, focusing on exterior actions to try and control the interior. Don’t watch bad movies, don’t listen to bad music, don’t make friends with non-Christians, make sure you go to small group...it’s legalism and condemnation. So, I can’t get behind it.
Based on all of that, and the fact that it wasn’t a contextual study through the book of Proverbs, which I was led to believe it would be, I’m giving the sermon a thumbs down.
The Grace Scale
Without more information on how they handle their memberships or discipline sin, I'm stuck with a 50/50 grace rating for The Rock.
They hint at the preaching of tithes, the sermon was legalistic at the heart, and although they have the appearance of grace through the language used on the website, red flags and the attitude of the sermon itself showed another face, and that is the law. I would put them even further toward the legalistic side, but I need more information to confidently do that. An attitude of legalism alone isn't enough to tip the scales in my opinion.
If anyone knows how The Rock Church handles its memberships, how they discipline sin, or how legalistic they are in other ways such as accountability through small groups, I would love to hear about it. Please contact me with any information that you have based on your experiences there.
The Political Scale
Due to their Statement of Faith which makes the same political statements on gender, sexuality and abortion as others have, I’m putting them on the conservative side. In addition, they also specify in their FAQs that they do not allow women to have authority over men. Whether it’s Biblical or not is irrelevant. I have no personal bias either way on this topic.
The fact is many liberal Christians don’t agree with this stance while conservative Christians do. Therefore, I’m putting them even further to the right on the political scale.
Scandals, History, & Controversy
I haven’t been able to find any scandals in The Rock’s history, nor any controversy. Unless you consider this Check to be controversial, then they have their first one, as far as I know!
And let me know if you know of a scandal that I don't!
The Word is not prioritized, the Gospel is only prioritized on the website for a gracious appearance while the sermon is much more focused on external efforts to live up to a certain standard, or in other words, legalism, and the worship service does not prioritize worshiping God but rather glorifies the worship team and their talents.
My questionnaire, once again, has been ignored, which I've come to learn actually says a lot more than answering it might. It says a lot about every church that ignores it.
So, our verdict? Not recommended.
Some Scriptures to leave you with after this particularly legalistic church, to wash that condemnation out of your hearts.
Romans 8:1 - "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 14:14 - " I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean."
Titus 1:15 - "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled."
Matthew 15:10-11 - "And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
Proverbs 21:2 - " Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart."
And one more Scripture to leave you pastors with, and the other church leadership who refuse to answer my questions about money or anything else I ask them.
1 Peter 3:13-16
"Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame."
If I have spoken lies, if your conscience is clear, if I am simply reviling your good behavior in Christ, and if your are zealous for what is good, what harm is there in answering my questions? Giving a reason for the hope that is in you? Put me to shame, please.