Church Experiment #31: Southland Church

Remember how shows for kids always had a word of the day, like “ball?” Then, they would spend the whole episode discussing balls.

This week’s word for stop 31 of the Church Experiment is “contradIcTion.”

I’m going to contradict myself multiple times. Including a huge contradiction at the very end, so no matter how judgmental I may sound throughout this chapter, you have to keep reading until the very last sentence. Second, I’m going to discuss my visit to Southland in a way that highlights many of their contradictions (from an outsider’s perspective). You’ll see what I mean.

First, a little backstory. A young lady from Kentucky began following the Church Experiment right after I began my journey. As I recall, from the beginning, she wanted me to come visit her church in Lexington. The only thing I know about Lexington is that I loathe University of Kentucky basketball, so a trip seemed unlikely. Then, a while back, she gave me an update about “IT.” Southland Christian Church ( began a summer-long marketing blitz for a series beginning August 1, called IT. No one knew what IT was, only that IT was going to be huge. My interest was piqued, so Saturday night, I made the ninety-minute drive from Cincinnati to Lexington to experience IT firsthand.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


stephanie said...


Anonymous said...

You're going to become a Catholic arn't you?

Sarah said...

I have tons of thoughts going through my mind as I read this, Steve, but I just want you to know for sure, as someone who knows Jon personally, that Jon is as authentic as they get...his emotion is definitely not faked, his visions are HUGE, yes, but he said himself that talk is cheap...this is going to require action on the body's part (which will be the challenge in following weeks). There have already been amazing stories (several in my own circle of friends) of people who want the kind of church Jon is envisioning--accepting of everybody, making a difference for REAL, etc. and have given their lives to God for the first time this weekend. I don't think he wants all the "old" people gone, but if "old" people who aren't on board of a church that will welcome the marginalized of society leave, I say, don't let the door hit you on the way out. Now this is rambling. More thoughts later. I AM glad you came and wish I could give you more of a window into the heart of Jon and the leadership of the church...perfect, no, definitely not...but trying as much to do things like Jesus would--YES.

Jon said...

If you are the same dude, is there anything wrong with that? Take it as an affirmation of your "dudeness". I can't wait to read the book that this blog helps to form.

Ruby Red Slippers said...

Our church in MI which is quite large-( I told you about before via e-mail-) is in proces of doing the same thing with "satellite" churching. My husband and I are not so sure about that. Nothing spiritual, just why not just hire other pastors for other churches? Why is it about one man speaking to many-can't there just be training instead?
Just a thought. We'll see how it goes, I guess.
Visit our church for the satellite thing-I would love a visitor's perspective on this in the fall-
How can you not be a changed person when this is over? You have much to think about and process-that alone will be a changing factor.
Good luck as you keep going-

random blogger said...

Maybe you have the same thoughts I do. Being from Lexington originally (and a huge UK fan--please keep reading) I have visited Southland lots. The questions and vision Weece seems to pose are good but how can you pull off managment of missional change with a massive crowd? It sounds like he wants to do both radical missional changes plus raise attendance. It seems to be the best thing to do would be to pick one. This is my main struggle with the mega-church (don't like that term), influencing/leading/teaching a large community to influence/lead/teach the surrouning community. Boasting weekend attendance numbers and program schedule is no benchmark for missional success, in my opinion. Sorry, not making much sense here. I'll do better next time.

bshawise said...

why wait for some unforseen speaking engagement to start being funny?

Sarah said...

Random blogger-I just wanted to clarify that this weekend Jon specifically said: a new church does NOT mean new programs..."this is not a paint's an overhaul"...I don't know how this is going to logistically play out, but I know he's planning on laying out the game plan over the next 4 weeks. I believe he is truly washing his hands of the "old Southland" in every way imaginable...will be interesting to see where that takes us.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's possible to be the same person a year later that you were a year ago. :-) We all change. You're a good guy. A thoughtful person. An experimenter. A pioneer. Fundamentally you'll be who you are, just more experienced and with a blog worth bragging about. Keep up the good work!

Steve Fuller said...


I hope you heard that I did like Jon and I think there are some cool things going on at Southland. I mean, over 3,000 people on a Saturday night is crazy.

If the old Southland was on an unhealthy path, I hope the new Southland corrects that trajectory.

I think my point is that empty rhetoric is just that - empty. And watching Jon made me realize how empty my own rhetoric can be at times. Not that his was or is, but it hit a nerve in me, which explains why my post was all over the place.

Steve Fuller said...

By the way, a Hindu named Varsha just commented on my post from last week about the Hindu Temple. Very interesting stuff. I recommend going back and reading his comment for lots of good info regarding my experience.

Sarah said...

I totally got that, Steve, no worries...he's pretty impossible NOT to like. And I truly hope to God that his words AREN'T empty's going to all be about what the church does with all of this when all is said and done. Will it be a flash-in-the-pan cool, IT thing or will it stick? As he said at end of the message--what the 21st century American church (not just Southland, but any) does from here on out is going to go down in history in 1 of 2 ways...we're either completely irrelevant and going to die out, or we're going to be the single greatest force for good in a world with many, many problems. I sure hope it's the latter.
And p.s. I like being called a "young lady" especially since the big 3-0 is looming in the very near future! ;)
And p.p.s. There's no way you'll be the same, you've already changed and made realizations...remember Jesus Christ University week?

Cyndi said...

The revelation you ran up against this weekend is really why you're blogging, right? I'm not reading this because I've always wanted to visit 52 churches and I'm living this through you.

I'm reading your blog because God asked you to do something and you're being obedient even though you're not sure why. (Which most of us probaby relate to.) And God always has a huge outcome. I've been waiting for what happens - God does things BIG.

There's no way you'll be the same on 1/1/10. God didn't set you up to be disappointed.

Btw, I gave God a challenge almost 5 years ago - I'd live my life 100% for him for one year. If I wasn't the same a year later, I was going back to my old ways. Holy stinkin' cow did my life change. And not at all how *I* thought it would change. That's probably why I'm most interested in this blog. I've been on the journey you're on.

It was amazing. :)

random blogger said...

Sarah--I'm sorry to imply that Weece suggested new programs. The growing bigger comment was my own trying to understand how virtual church via satellite is an "overhaul". Hopefully this can be explained (and I'm sure it will be) throughout the rest of the series. The desire to do what Jesus did (and still does) is the choice to make, however it seems to me (and I am a cynic by nature-broken) that in order to do that the "church" has to be stripped down--less commericalized, more personalized, more messy, less organized. I am having a hard time understanding how the advanced technology approach (should try to use it for kingdom purposes, fine with it)makes a case for getting back to basics which is what Steve seems to have implied with what he heard on Sunday. I guess it's hard not to see this as a ploy to get groundswell support for launching a "different" kind of growth approach (especially in lean economic times).

I have heard Jon speak several times and have had worshipful experiences during my visits so I am not trying to question authenticity. Just confused in my own mind about what church growth really looks like and how it should be accomplished.

Sarah said...

In case anyone was interested--here is the video of the message. Click on the blue thingie to watch it. :)

Anonymous said...

Deer sir are u evre going to visit the churches for of jewish? thanks yuo.
(bad english sorry)

Steve Fuller said...


Yes, I am. In September and October I plan on visiting a couple different Jewish Synagogues.

Jen - Mom of 4 said...

I've found this post and comments interesting. I attend a Church that has two satellite locations. I understand why some people may find the concept of satellite locations weird or less personable. When I first started attending Eagle Brook I was not interested in the satellite locations - why would I want to watch a tv screen to hear the message when I could attend the actually church?

The one thing that Eagle Brook has done very well is to make the satellite locations, which are much smaller than our main location, very personable. There is a campus pastor that is always available and makes his presence known. You can easily meet people and become friends with people that you see each weekend. Which can be more difficult at our large campus, which seat 2100 people (and like Southland is almost always full at our four services on Saturday and Sunday)

While we watch the message on large screen I now understand the reason behind it. Pastors that are talented message givers are few and far between. We have three pastors that are excellent and want all of our churches to receive the same experience. We have all attended churches where the pastor or priest has people snoozing in their chairs. We have condensed our resources to the best of the best and to give a fantastic experience to everyone of our church members.

I wish Southland the best. This type of church is possible, we are doing it and it has brought more people to the Lord.

RA Cook said...

I think satellite churches are a pretty logical extension of the mega church. Some gifted teacher teaches, and the rubber meets the road in small group discipleship. If you're watching the speaker on a big screen flanking the stage, who cares if you're instead watching on a big screen pumped over fiber. Globally I'm sure it's cheaper, less infrastructure, you don't have to find an A+ speaker, you find a gifted discipleship guy, rent a school, and do work.

Sarah said...

I agree with Jen. Our home church opened a satellite campus a few years ago and it is doing great. CLC is planning on becoming one church in 4 locations by the beginning of 2010 by opening two more satellite campuses in our area. I believe that there needs to be a serious calling to begin something as huge as that, and I hope that Southland succedes!

bound4glory said...

I love that we can use technology to the advantage of preaching the gospel. We can reach more people and if people are cool with it then so be it. With the return of Christ quickly approaching we need to reach as many as possible.

I know of many churches who have multiple campuses with video feeds and their churches are thriving. Church is not about the speaker but about He who saved us.

I pray that Christians unify to reach the lost because at last count is was around 5 billion people who have not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. God Bless.

Steve Fuller said...


I promise I am not trying to pick a fight, but I am curious because you made the statement.

What makes you believe the return of Christ is "quickly approaching?"

Or was that just a general statement?

bound4glory said...


I have no quarrel with anyone and for all who ask shall receive because God is willing.

In the study of Biblical prophecy, much of what God foretold has already occurred, unfathomable in terms of calculable odds.

Dan 12:4 "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase."

The Lord told Daniel that towards the last days his believers would be able to understand the prophecies that would signal the season of his return.

There is not enough space to here to detail a full latter day study. Though the clock began when Israel became a nation in 1948, a miracle beyond all proportions if one studies how it came to be.

The Lord instructed us to look for numerous signs and conditions that would signal His return and establish His theocratic kingdom on earth. Those signs can be found in numerous scriptures. Matthew 24, Mark 13, 2 Timothy 3, Zechariah 12:1-4, 2 Peter 3, 1 and 2 Thessolonians are a few references.

The Lord told us when we began to see these things unfold before us we should be ready for His return. No man knows the day nor the hour but He did say we would know the season.

Though many have passed believing the same thing, we are now living in a time where it is possible for man to totally annialate itself.

Mark 13:20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

All in all I am trying to live my life as if He was coming back in my lifetime. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

I am so interested in your blog being a "lost" catholic myself.
I agree that good, inspirational speakers are hard to find. In the Catholic faith, finding one that can really relate to the congregation as a whole is very difficult. While I like all of the tradition of the Catholic faith, I just could not tolerate one more Sunday listening to someone who has nothing in common with most of the congregation. I do understand that finding a spiritual leader who is is charismatic, current AND can speak is difficult across ALOT of religions. I'm beginning to be just a traveler on the spiritual path. I visit churches (of varying denominations) when I hear of a good speaker. Someone who is uplifting, has me thinking outside myself and encouraging me to stay the course and most of all ENJOY life, because that is the gift.
It is not easy to find.

Anonymous said...

What I like about Catholic Church is that it's about the individual and God. Church is not a fashion show, and there are no gimmicks. Mass is basically the same at every Catholic church in the entire world. It doesn't even matter if the priest is boring or incompetent-- you know you're part of the "universal" (aka catholic) church. I've searched a lot too, but have only found this united feeling in the Catholic Church. I think all Christians are saved, and I don't think church is even necessary, but I like the very holy vibe I get in Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post on your Southland visit! Southland is my home church right now has been for the past year and a half. I attended the packed-out 11:00 a.m. service the morning after you attended, and had many of the same questions and observations you did. My overall feeling is that Southland is "loving God and loving people" in a way that I've only seen one other congregation accomplish (I've been attending church for 40 years, and have been a part of maybe 15 congregations). I'm really not sure about the "IT" campaign and am uncomfortable with its seeming vagueness, but my ongoing, overall impression of this congregation is that no matter what our current "campaign" is, and regardless of the "commerciality" of the campaign (forgive me for that word!), in the end IT will result in loving God and serving the poor of this area, two things this congregation does well. Blessings on your search -- I'm searching, too, and awkwardly so, and appreciate what you're doing.

Deano said...

Andy Stanley in Atlanta has been doing the "Satellite" church thing for some time and shows up in person from time to time. I guess, as long as there is more intimate fellowship among those that attend the satellite church, that's ok. Frankly, even at our Vineyard Church, it's been awful hard to develop intimacy, even in a ten year old small group. Technology is good as long as it remains a tool and not a master.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Steve, love your blog! I'm the Anonymous poster (don't have an account) who posted on 8/5 at 9:38 and said I am a member at Southland. I agreed in that post with pretty much all of your observations in your post (except that Jon's emotions are pretty real, I think--I've known his family for more than 20 years, since he himself was a kid--and I think his emotional reactions are genuine and not "rhetoric"). At any rate, I agreed with just about all your observations and was feeling some frustrations and contradictions myself with the whole "IT" campaign, in part because of the promise that we are suddenly a brand new church (without a serious discussion of what the old church was doing wrong), and in part because of the seeming vagueness of just what "IT" means. I still feel that way on both accounts, but wanted to update this post by saying that, whatever "IT" really stands for, the end result is just what I had previously suspected: "love God, love people", a goal that's pretty hard to argue with. In any church, "campaigns" will come and go, so I guess I'm not too worried about my two frustrations with the IT campaign. If in the end we love God more and love people more, what does it matter if the promo material has a few weaknesses? I'm grateful to God to be in this place at this time, getting the chance to interact with Him at church and love His people wherever I find them. Blessings to you in your 52-churches journey this year!

Anonymous said...

One more comment -- I should add that the IT campaign was five Sundays in length, and this last Sunday, yesterday, was the fifth Sunday, so I guess I'm "following up" on my original post from 8/5 in which I expressed a little bit of frustration. All's well that ends well, in this case. "Love God, love people." Blessings!

Sarah said...

Hey! I just wanted to point you guys to a link of stories people sent in after one week of the IT series where the service let out early and we were told to be IT in our city--to love on people radically. Some amazing things happened because of it:
We have also had over 400 baptisms just in this past month alone. I hope more than anything that this is the direction our church is going--that it is not just a campaign that will be soon forgotten...or I will be so, so disappointed. "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love"--Galatians 5:6

The Thief said...

I spent 4 years in Lexington and became a member of Southland Christian Church (before their current building) - here are a few tidbits of info to maybe clarify things.

Jon Weece is their third pastor (I don't know him; I was there while Mike Breaux was pastor). Breaux was the handpicked successor to Wayne Smith, and it was under his leadership that the church made its dramatic (first) growth and built the building where you worshiped.

It's not necessarily a "converted" gym; it was built as a multi-purpose room. Originally in the plans was another building, a strict worship center, but they liked the multi-use building enough that they never went ahead and built more. And it was going to cost significantly more. The bleachers were never "bleachers" per se - they've always been individual seats.

It's a huge church, but they've always worked to make things "small" - I was in the choir back in the day, which was the size of a regular church (100+ members) and even we broke down into small groups for prayer and care.

I don't know Jon Weece, but I know Southland Christian, and its a church I love. Yes, some contradictions arise in having such an elaborate building and then eschewing materialism or hugeness or whatever, but these shouldn't necessarily reflect poorly on Weece. He was hired after the building was built...

Anonymous said...

It makes one wonder and then wander away. Point of fact this was not Mr. Weece's first baptism. Add that to your contradictions and confusion. Doing things the way Jesus did is obviously up for grabs. You could not be more post-post-modern then when the leaders of our churches begin to develop such serious contradictions.