Updated: Apr 29, 2019
We are checking Utah Valley Church as a request from a local churchgoer who actually attends this church. I’d never heard of them before this check, but I look forward to it!
Their website tells us very little about them and is rather cryptic in some areas, but don’t you worry about it. We’ll check these guys out!
So, let’s get to it!
The Website Review
Utah Valley Church has this to say about themselves on their website (emphasis mine):
Our vision is to see gospel-centered, disciple-making communities in every neighborhood in Utah Valley, the State of Utah, and every nation.
Our mission is to multiply disciples through authentic relationships.
Now, believe it or not, this right here, is a red flag. If you’ve read our post on signs of a money serving church, you may already recognize this mission. For those of you who haven’t, I’ll explain.
A quick tip for Christians wanting to do their own church checking, the words “disciple-making” and “multiply” and “authentic relationships” should all be red flags for you. Here’s why.
When churches use these words in their mission, vision, value, or whatever they want to call it, it generally means a few specific things. First, it could mean that they are prioritizing getting bigger in numbers. Why is this bad? Because they should be focusing on teaching and equipping, and helping Christians grow in faith, not making their church grow in physical stature.
Second, by “authentic relationships” I wonder if they mean to say “accountability,” as legalistic churches will often say is necessary in the local church. Accountability is frequently used to justify the humiliating, rebuking, and condemning that happens in churches far too much.
But, if that’s not what they mean, then great! I hope my suspicions are wrong.
Another observation to note before we get to the Questionnaire itself.
On January 27th, they shared a “disciple-making” info-graphic from Jim Putman’s Facebook Page to their church Facebook Page. You can see the post on their page yourself here. If you don’t remember, Jim Putman is the pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho.
For those of you who don’t know who Jim Putman or Real Life Ministries is, they were one of our first Church Checks, and the results were not positive. You can read our thoughts on their church here.
In reading more about UVC on their “What Kind of Church is This?” Page, we see the same church growing business-type language that we see with churches like South Mountain Community Church, Real Life Ministries, and others.
They repeat the “authentic relationships” idea, which by its description sounds innocent and loving enough, but again, I’ve been in one too many small groups that espouse the same mentality only to find out that judgment, humiliation, and religious hypocrisy is what follows. I hope UVC is nothing like this and that there is no condemnation for Christians in their church, but it's hard to tell without actually attending the church itself.
The Relational, Intentional, & Reproducible language is virtually all reproduced by the Jim Putman method of doing church, which is growing your church through small groups. Utah Valley Church has already made it clear in their emails to me that they’re not interesting in having a megachurch, but through their connection to Putman and his philosophies that are clearly displayed on their website, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that they are still interested in growing in physical numbers. Maybe not all in one place, but is that really relevant?
Lastly, like many other churches that we’ve checked so far, Utah Valley Church offers Financial Peace University at their church. This is a big fat red flag. Financial Peace University is a tool that churches use in getting congregates to get out of debt and contribute more money to the church.
So far, the red flags are not making things look good. We have to give a thumbs down for the Website Review.
When I emailed Utah Valley Church the first time, they responded rather quickly, and pastor Matthew actually answered a few of my questions before I even had a chance to send him my questionnaire.
He refrained from wanting to answer the questionnaire initially though, stating (emphasis mine):
“...we really appreciate your interest in reviewing Utah Valley Church on your blog. However, at this time, we do not desire to promote our church in this way…”
But then within the same email he proceeded to tell me a few things about the church that was actually helpful to my Check anyway.
He said (emphasis mine):
“...If you live locally and have a personal interest in UCV, here are a few things about our local congregation that you might not find on our website.
First, we're a very simple church. We own zero property, have zero debt, and have zero paid staff. We meet in homes during the week and in an old performing arts theatre on Sundays. Because of this, our operational cost is only around $850 per month allowing us to allocate the remainder of our giving to benevolence, church planting and foreign missions.
Secondly, we focus a lot more on equipping and sending people as missionaries into the places they live, work and play than we do on trying to gather a large crowd. We would rather plant more gospel-centered churches than become a mega church.
Thirdly, we have multiple teaching pastors and try to avoid being a personality-centric church.
Lastly, and most important, we have a high value on the Bible. We usually teach through books of the Bible verse by verse, but we also do some topical and topical exegetical preaching as well. At the end of the day, we try to get people into the Word on their own so that they don't become dependant on the pastor's teaching. We want to help people learn how to feed themselves on the Word...”
Before I continue with what happened after this email, I just want to touch on a few points of emphasis in what was said here.
The whole “we don’t wish to promote ourselves this way” was very similar to the response I received from Real Life Ministries in Post Falls Idaho, who said “...Once again thank you so much for your interest in our church, but we aren't interested in filling out the questionnaire at this time...” This put up a red flag for me immediately. I could feel the stonewalling begin to take form, but I wasn’t going to give up quite yet.
The next larger paragraph tells us a lot about UVC’s financial situation, so I actually really appreciated that information. I was surprised after the verbiage of the initial rejection to the questionnaire that they offered up this information before I’d even asked for it. So it was a big plus for them in my mind, making up for a bad first impression with that first statement. But then the skeptic in me began to wonder if this is information they like to use to appear transparent and non-megachurch-like in an effort to attract people to their church.
The statements about equipping people to disciple as missionaries where they work and play rather than gathering in a large crowd struck me as another pleasant surprise, but my initial impression is making me question the motives behind it. They are clearly interested in growing their church in numbers according to their connection with Jim Putman.
“We would rather plant more gospel-centered churches than become a megachurch,” to me doesn’t sound as good as they’re probably hoping it does. Whether their congregation is spread thin all throughout Utah or crammed into one building makes no difference. What I want to know is whether or not their aim is to grow in numbers or focus on growing in faith. It sounds like, despite their efforts to appear otherwise, they still have that same vision and mission that most Christian churches seem to have these days: getting bigger.
It’s good to hear that they usually do verse by verse sermons, and that they want to teach people to feed themselves the Word, but I hope they don’t mean to do that in an effort to rid the church of its responsibility of feeding the flock the Word of God. Whether their congregation can feed itself the Word or not doesn’t mean the church should stop doing it. It’s still the pastor’s job to teach the Word either way.
So after pastor Matthew sent me this email, I replied and tried to clarify my purpose in asking the questions, as well as to convince him to answer them anyway.
“...To clarify, the church reviews are not meant for promoting churches and they don't cost you any money. I'm just a Christian blogger and I've decided after many frustrating experiences in a lot of different Christian churches, that this would be a good resource for churchgoers to use in order to find out more about the Christian churches in their community before committing to one.
As part of this mission, I allow Christians to make "church requests," to which I go to to the recommended church, find out everything I can about that church, and report what I find back to the readers. I also give my personal opinion on many factors, but the important thing is that Christians can find out more about churches before deciding whether that church is for them.
Your church was requested by one of our readers. So, it would be a lot of help to me if you could answer some specific questions that I have. Not answering the questions will make my review more time consuming and difficult to complete fully and accurately, but I have committed to checking every church in Utah that I can, and since your church was requested, I would hate to fail in that commitment.
You've actually already answered a few of my questions in your first reply, which I really appreciate, so I just have a few more…”
I added the questions he hadn’t answered in the remainder of my email, and waited.
Three days later, I sent a follow up email. Then another three days went by. So I sent another follow up email, but this time I told them:
“I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be posting your church's review in the next couple of days, and while I would still appreciate some answers to my questions, it looks like I'll just have to proceed with the Check without your support. I don't understand why my questions cannot just be answered. These are questions that many Christians have when deciding on whether to commit to any particular local church.
If at some point in the future you decide you'd like to answer the questions, you can send them to me at any time and I will update the posted review.”
To this, I did get a reply:
“We have been out of town since Friday and unavailable to respond to your emails. Thank you for your patients.
We're not opposed to the questionnaire. However, we do have a couple of requests. Because the same word can mean something different to each person, we would really appreciate your personal definition of some of the words that you used in the questionnaire so that we can know how to respond based on your understanding of those words. We'll include a few additional words that will help us understand your perspective. Also, what is the name and URL of your website/blog? We would like to review your site before submitting a response to the questionnaire. So, before proceeding, can you please respond to the following?”
Following the body of the email was a list of words they wanted me to define and give my own understanding of, before they would answer my questions.
At this point, I was getting frustrated. I’d already been trying to get answers for nearly a week, and this just felt like another stonewalling method akin to “we don’t wish to promote ourselves in this way right now,” but anyway, I answered their request and defined their words. Here are all the words they asked me to define, and I defined them as follows:
God...is the Supreme ruler and creator of the Universe. He is self-existent and perfect. I believe in the God of the Bible. God is One, He is Spirit, not made of flesh and bone, He is three in one (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and timeless. God is just, loving, merciful, gracious, and perfect in every way.
Heavenly Father...is the first person of the Trinity, or the Triune God.
Jesus...is God in the flesh, or God incarnate The Word made flesh. He was sent by the Father, born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, performed miracles, shed His blood for our sins and reconciled us to God through His perfect sacrifice on the cross. He was resurrected from the dead on the third day. He established a New Covenant with God, one not written in ink, but on our hearts and in our minds. He fulfilled the Law and through Him alone, we are reconciled to God. When we believe in Him, we are saved from eternal punishment.
Holy Spirit...is the third person of the Trinity. Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit when they believe in Jesus Christ and by His indwelling we are guided, led, and conformed to the will of God by the renewing of our minds.
Gospel...is the Good News, which is that although we are separated from God and dead in our sins by our flesh, we are reconciled to God through Christ. Put simply, it is our way of salvation through Jesus Christ, not works, human effort, or our own self-righteousness.
Grace...is the unmerited, undeserving favor and forgiveness of God.
Salvation...is through Jesus Christ alone. We are born in sin and since God is perfect and holy, we are separated from Him and condemned in our flesh for our sins. Through the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are reconciled to God.
Christian...is a follower of Jesus Christ. A person who believes in Jesus Christ, has accepted Him as their Savior, and believes in/follows the teachings of the Bible.
Church...has two meanings in my mind. 1. There is the Universal Church, the Body of Christ, which all believers in Christ belong to through their Christianity. 2. The local church, which is a group of believers who gather together locally in order to worship, fellowship, and learn and teach the Word of God. In my reviews I am primarily referring to local, individual church groups.
Pastor...is the "shepherd of the flock." I see pastors as local shepherds to their own local flock as described in the Bible in 1 Peter 5:1-4. In my questionnaire I am referring to the head/senior pastor and any other pastors on staff at the church.
Staff...are people who have volunteered and/or have been hired by the local church to work for the church. For example an office administrator, or a worship leader, or the associate pastor, or anyone who works for the church directly, whether paid or unpaid.
Tithing...the Old Testament law that required the Israelites to give a tenth of their earnings to God. When I ask local churches their official position on tithing, I am really asking whether or not they hold tithing to be a requirement of Christians today, as well as their position on giving in general.
Baptism...is the ordinance of water immersion which signifies our death to sin and our flesh and our resurrection to new life through Jesus Christ. When we accept Christ as our Savior and become Christians, the Holy Spirit fills us, and we begin our walk with God. Baptism is an outward expression, and celebration, of our new life in Jesus Christ. When I ask churches about their stance on baptism, I am specifically asking whether or not they believe a Christian must be baptized in order to be saved, or if they must be baptized in order to be a member of the church.
Membership...is the official recognition toward an individual as a part of the larger group. When I say membership in relation to the local church, I am inquiring about whether or not the church holds any particular policies, standards, or requirements for individual members of their church, or if they have anything that they would call "membership" in any sense at all. Some churches have membership applications, classes, and contracts, while others have no official membership policies or rules at all.
Denomination... a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church.
Two days later, I got their answers to the Questionnaire. So, it only took a grand total of about 8 or 9 days, but I did eventually get the answers to my questions.
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
“We live in a culture where, unfortunately, "Paying Tithing" is a religious requirement. Therefore, we tell our people, "We do not pay tithing because Jesus paid it all". That being said, Jesus is generous and we want to be like Him. Therefore, we believe in the Biblical principle of generosity in all things, not limited to financial. Since we do not pay salaries or mortgages we have the opportunity to be a generous church and people love to participate in that! We've never felt the need to preach specifically on financial giving.”
I love how they say “Jesus paid it all” here. Perfect. And true.
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?
"We do not have any official church membership. We often say, “You can belong before you believe”."
3. 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?
"We are very transparent with the people who attend our gatherings. We do not brag, print, or publicly post numbers online. With that said, our operating expenses are less than $1K/ month and the remainder of all giving is allocated to local benevolence, domestic church planting, and global missions."
Given that pastor Matthew did give me more information on this initially than I’d even asked for yet, and the answer to the pastor salary question, I have to give a thumbs up for this answer. Unless someone can give me good reason to do otherwise.
4. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
"We are a gospel-centered, bible believing, non-denominational Christian church. We tend to relate more with other gospel-centered churches who also have an emphasis on Jesus' method of disciple-making. This isn’t denominationally specific."
5. 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?
"We're a gospel-centered, grace-based church that emphasizes an allegiance to Jesus and His Word. We talk about but do not focus on trivial or non-essential doctrine. We try to major on the majors and minor on the minors. We're very clear on essential Christian doctrine, and one of our non-negotiables is that we will not be divisive over non-essential doctrine. For example, Calvinists and Arminianists not only get along, but they also worship, pray and serve together in our church. As far as disagreements are concerned, if it is within the pale of orthodoxy, we graciously agree to disagree and not divide. We're pretty transparent about stuff like that. If it was a disagreement that undermined God, His Word, or the gospel of grace, we would graciously and lovingly lead that person back to scripture and let the Bible have the final say, with the intent of maintaining fellowship."
I agree, and love this answer.
6. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
"Baptism isn't a requirement since we don't have official membership. As far as what we teach on baptism, we try to follow the pattern we see in scripture. The Greek word used in the Bible for baptism literally means to dip or sink, so we baptize by immersion. Jesus commanded us to baptize those who believe (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15-17). In the book of Acts, every single person who put their faith in Christ was immediately baptized, so we typically follow in the same manner. We see baptism as a faith response to God's grace through the gospel as an identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3, Col 2:12). We think of it as a way of putting on the team jersey that states you belong to Jesus, being clothed with Christ (Gal 3:26-27). The only prerequisites for baptism are faith in Christ alone and repentance (Acts 2:37-38). It also illustrates the forgiveness of our sin."
7. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
"We have zero paid staff and about 75 volunteers."
8. What is the pastor's educational history?
"We have multiple pastors with education ranging from bachelors in pastoral ministry to 18 years of practical experience in pastoral ministry."
9. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
"We follow the process Jesus outlined in Matthew 18. He said, "If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.""
10. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
"We have no paid staff and give no benefits or bonuses."
In conclusion to the Questionnaire portion of the Check, although we received an initial bad impression when it came to the Website Review, getting the questions answered, and the references we see to Jim Putman, we have to give the Questionnaire answers themselves a thumbs up. As far as everything else goes however, we are still unsure.
The Worship Service
We have been unable to find any video of Utah Valley Church’s worship services, and since we can’t physically attend quite yet, we can’t make a fair assessment of what their worship services are like.
Until we can do that, we’ll refrain from making any critique in this area. If you’ve attended Utah Valley Church and can give us your own experience at their worship services, please let us know what it was like in the comments section below the Full Check.
Is the sermon topical or a verse by verse study of the Bible?
While pastor Matthew did say that they typically do verse by verse studies with some topical teaching mixed in, what I’m seeing is that the particular sermon I’ve chosen to watch has the name of the book of the Bible and the chapter that they’re working through as part of the series title, and the rest is their topical name for the series.
This sermon is entitled Ephesians 6 - Made To Win More. You can watch it here if you’d like to follow along with me. The subtitle is From More Strategy To More Surrender. Okay. Sounds interesting. Let’s see where it leads us.
Is the Message itself Biblical?
Yes. The main message is basically as follows: We are made to have victory against evil, and to win more, we must wake up and put on the whole armor of God. How do we do that? Not by our own efforts through the flesh, but through surrendering to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Although, I don’t like the series title “Make to Win More” because it has an air of that Prosperity Gospel message which says that Christians should be healthy, wealthy, successful “winners”. This is not Biblical, but I don’t think that was the message that pastor Matthew was pushing. It just comes off that way from an unclear series title.
How frequently is the Bible used? Is it interpreted in context, or cherry picked out of context to support the topical sermon or the ideas of men?
The Bible is used several times, and as far as I can tell, is interpreted in context. Not very much time is actually spent in the Word itself, however, and the commentary from the pastor, while absolutely Biblical, is feeding us the milk that only brand new babes in Christ need to hear.
It’s good to give milk to new Christians, and maybe that is what Utah Valley Church’s sermons are focused on: new believers. Whereas perhaps it is their micro-church meetings and small groups where the meatier Bible study is done. I can’t say this is necessarily a bad thing, as he is still preaching the Gospel and the Biblical truth, it’s just not as much sustenance as I would need personally as a Christian from my church.
Were you fed the Word of God, or the words of men?
I was fed the Word, but not as much as I would like, and not as heavy as I need for my carnivorous Christian appetite. It’s certainly better than the pastors who don’t even make their sermons Biblical anymore, but rather more of a self help seminar on how to live a happy and successful life. This is definitely not that, but it just isn’t enough meat for me personally.
I could recommend a sermon like this for a brand new Christian, but I would only recommend the church if I knew that their “micro-church” meetings were feeding meat..and that all of my other suspicions about this church are false.
Overall, since the only negative thing I can say about it isn’t necessarily a negative for some people (new Christians), I will give them a thumbs up for the sermon.
The Grace Scale
The Website Review revealed language that suggests they like to hold each other accountable through "authentic relationship" and an "intentional relational" approach to ministry, which in my experience has been code for legalism. This suspicion alone however, being a mere red flag with no real confirmed data to back it up, is not enough to make this church legalistic.
Additionally, they have promoted Jim Putman's "disciple-making" philosophies through both their website and their Facebook page, and Jim Putman's church, Real Life Ministries, is very legalistic.
These two issues only suggest that this church might be legalistic, but with the answers to the Questionnaire being so gracious regarding tithing, memberships, and discipline, and then the gracious message in the sermon, we have to take them at their word, rather than our unconfirmed suspicions. We're only giving them a 10% bump towards legalism due to the suspicions.
The Political Scale
We couldn't find anything particularly political about this church one way or the other, so they're right in the middle of the Political Scale.
Scandals & Controversy
I consider a connection to Jim Putman and his philosophies regarding the local church a controversy. If you still haven't read out Check of Real Life Ministries, you really should.
The Final Rating
It took me a total of nearly two weeks to get from the moment I first emailed Utah Valley Church to right now.
On one hand, they answered the Questionnaire (after some coaxing), they appear to be financially transparent, and their sermon was Biblical, even though it was more of a very light salad than the full meal of meaty Word I prefer. According to their answers in the Questionnaire, however, it’s impossible to label this church as legalistic in virtually any way.
On the other hand, the Website Review did not go well, and the difficulty I went through just to get some answers to my questions was a little ridiculous. I’m seeing a lot of red flags with this church, but none of them could be vindicated in the Questionnaire or the Sermon. At the same time, they do appear to support, and practice in Jim Putman’s ways of operating in the local church, and that’s the biggest red flag of all. And then they have Financial Peace University, where Christians are basically taught that handling their money “God’s way” is by getting your finances in order so you can give more money to the church.
There are too many negative things to outweigh positives, but it would be unfair to label them as either a House of Law or a Den of Thieves purely because I’m suspicious of them based on red flags that may not even be accurate in the end. On paper, they appear to be a good church.
However, until I can get more information on this church and resolve the red flags that remain unsettled in the back of my mind, we are on the fence with this one.