(Photo courtesy of Churchome)
Bringing Out The Welcome Mat
An Interview With Churchome’s Chelsea Smith
By Sarah Komisky
Five minutes into the interview and Chelsea Smith is turning the tables, for the better. She asks me a question: For you, what would be the biggest win for the conversation we’re about to have? Pulling me out of interviewer mode, I take a second to think. My response––let the unchurched know they are welcome. It is met with enthusiasm by a kindred spirit who almost gives me a fist-pumping “Ok!” over the phone. She’s ready to throw down the encouragement for the sake of others. Assuredly she reveals, “I want to help you win too.”
Smith is a team player. Her strategy is rare. She’s not being pretentious. As a church leader and influencer, it’s a reality she tries to make happen daily. Co-pastoring the multi-site church known as Churchome with her husband, Judah, Smith is committed to creating an atmosphere where everyone is welcome. A passion we both shared as leaders and Christ-followers. Here is an inside look at our candid conversation on what it means to show God’s love, practicing living without judgment, and continuing to use innovation to reach a new generation.
Sarah: Share a little bit about Churchome––how it got started, what it is.
Chelsea: Churchome is a church that was actually founded by my husband’s parents in 1992, in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. Judah was 13 at that point…in the building they started with 20 people. It grew for the next 20 years just to be an amazing, Jesus-loving, non-denominational church. In 2004, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Judah and I were 25 at that point; he was just about to turn 26. We were the youth pastors. We loved that. We thought we’d be the youth pastors forever. But as my father-in-law’s health worsened, Judah became the preaching pastor.
In 2009, we took over the church from his parents. At that point, it was in locations all around the Puget Sound area. We loved it. Took over the church, and just thought we were going to be there. As the story goes, we had some friends in LA in the industry who loved Jesus and said, “I really want to tell my friends about Jesus, but don’t necessarily know how. If you’re in LA, can you come and do a Bible study?” We’d come down periodically when we had time to do a Bible study with our friend, Jason Kennedy, and people started getting saved. I think in that moment, it always changes people who encounter Jesus, but it changed us. I grew up in the church, Judah grew up in the church, and I remember growing up with the mentality that getting people to know Jesus is hard. Here we are, in the heart of Hollywood with people who are living their dream, have fame or fortune, and realizing that here’s a group of people who are so hungry for the gospel and Jesus that we have. That transformed us to realize that if you see Jesus for who He really is, He really is practically irresistible. The good news is really so good; it’s compelling, overwhelming. For Judah and I, a couple of church kids, getting into this environment, with a group of completely unchurched people at our friend’s house in Hollywood, really changed us and changed how we saw Jesus and the gospel and how the story of Jesus needs to get told to the world. That was our journey from Seattle to LA. It was called the City Church. At the church’s 25th anniversary, we changed the name. It was really cool. Judah’s mom (who is still alive) was a huge part in founding the church. She was one of the biggest proponents for us changing the name.
Sarah: You had that name change, but what does that mean to you to have that name “Churchome” and what do you hope others would feel when they visit?
Chelsea: It means a couple of things. I believe the meaning is both philosophical and methodological. It’s part of the method we believe God has called us to in the church. The philosophy side…my parents grew up not knowing Jesus at all, then came to know Jesus. They were the most incredible mom and dad, and I got to be raised in an amazing family. So did Judah. Just realizing the benefit of being in a family that so many people in our world today don’t have. So many homes are broken and to really have that message and philosophy that the church is meant to be a family; a place of unconditional love and acceptance. A place you are birthed into, that you didn’t earn any worth to be part of. Really believing that Churchome and all church is that place. That’s why God called His church a family of brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We really want the culture and the atmosphere to reflect that.
The methodological side––the church has gone through so many versions of methodology to be effective in communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ; making disciples and fulfilling the Great Commission. It started in temples, then persecution started, so it went to homes, then cathedrals––the whole church history. But there’s always been these different methods of church. But one of the things we believe about the age of technology we’re living in is that the church is like your home, but it can also be in your home. That people can gather a group of 10 or 12 friends and be part of Churchome and have church at home. In Acts 2, the early church had fellowship and went house to house. They had teaching from the apostles. We believe we have fellowship with one another and that we get teaching from appointed, godly leaders. Through technology, we believe that can happen now in homes. In Churchome, we provide a service for people to gather around and experience that face-to-face fellowship and teaching from the Bible.
Sarah: When it comes to thinking out of the box to reach this next generation with hope, what does that mean to you? Having that experience and being able to do that?
Chelsea: I wish we could say we were really smart and read a bunch of books and got a bunch of smart people in a room and came up with this great strategy. I think for us, our journey has been being more in real life relationships with real people who have been like us – people who have grown up in church forever and people who are too afraid to step in a church. For us, having genuine, real relationships with people who are in all walks of life has been the fuel to use any means possible to create a church to appeal to people on any end of that spectrum. That’s been our launching point.
For me on a personal level, having teenagers. I grew up loving the church. For my teenagers, I want the same thing for them. That so much compels us to be willing to let go of traditions and make some traditionalists a little skeptical. To realize if I’m doing this for my teenagers, I’m going to build a church they’re going to love, that speaks their language, that they’re going to come to. As well as building a church that any unchurched person would feel loved and understand the language of as soon as they walk in the door. I think we become so entrenched in our Christianese. We need to have a willingness to put things into a language that people speak and understand. Of course, as you read through the writings of Paul––who was a brilliant theologian in his time––he put so many things in simple terms, and layman’s terms, in word pictures that the culture would understand.
Sarah: I want to talk about the criticism a little bit. How can we as Christians take greater strides to not place that judgment on people who are willing to have conversations about faith, but might not have a conversion experience yet? I feel like there are a lot of celebrities that have come out––they’re doing good things and they’re talking about faith––yet the Christian community is kind of skeptical and not really welcoming that. Maybe you can talk about how can we, as Christ followers, exemplify Jesus, and be able to not be that critical, and be open to those things?
Chelsea: As far as welcoming people of celebrity or renown, I think first of all, it’s so easy for us to fear what we don’t understand. I think this life of celebrity that our world portrays makes it such a mystery, that these are individuals who are living an extraordinary life that is so different than mine. There’s this chasm of a lack of understanding that can create fear. I don’t think that’s a Christian problem; I think that’s a normal, human problem. If you look throughout the course of history, whenever anybody wanted to persecute a people group, the first thing they did was to dehumanize them. If we can dehumanize someone, we can criticize them, we can persecute them; there can be an us and them. I think as Christians, that is something we need to make sure we are guarding, which is our perspective that we are all created by God. We are all His creation, created in His image, every man, woman, boy, and girl. Even the people who we may not understand their lives or their life choices––whether they’re celebrity or on the other side of the planet––that we would strive to get understanding. That we would strive to believe we’re all humans on this planet together.
I really do believe that perspective is the first thing we can do. I think the second thing is realizing that we are all saved by grace, through faith, not good works, so that nobody can boast. And again in Romans, it talks about grace and the gospel. I think sometimes as Christians, we know that we’re saved by grace through faith, but somehow in the back of our minds, we feel like, “Yes, I know that, but I’ve also walked out the principles of God, so the blessings I have in my life are blessings that I somehow deserve.” I don’t even think that we think through those thoughts consciously, but they’re kind of in the back of our minds as part of our mindset. If we feel like we have something that we’ve earned and deserve, that somehow gives us the ability to boast, to be elite, to be better than others. I think if either of those creep into our mindset, we can dehumanize any people group, or somehow as believers think that we’re somehow better because we earned something. When truly everything we have is a result of Jesus and His grace. As individuals, we continually have that in our mind and our mindset.
Sarah: I want to go back to the Churchome app. You have all these options for people to have church in different ways. I think our generation is really craving authenticity. How do you think with this app that it’s helping other people have that growth in that area?
Chelsea: It can seem a little counterintuitive in a generation that we really feel like is being annihilated in some ways by social media and technology. Annihilated and isolated. Why would we use a tool that is hurting and harming? But the app is really a means to an end; it’s not a means in of itself. That we would really use whatever means possible to connect people with Jesus and connect them with each other. You’ll notice in the app, it starts off with a daily guided prayer. Wherever you’re at on your spiritual journey, I think we all need help talking to God more often. From there, it can lead you to participate in a weekend service that you can just watch on your phone. That’s been really incredible to notice that something that someone would never ask for––prayer request at the front of a service––or something they’d never bring about––call up a church office and ask for a meeting with the pastor––that they’d be so honest over technology. Realizing that’s a language this generation is speaking, for us to translate the gospel and the Good News into that language is important. Soon, we’re also going to be including digital groups, which are daily discussion groups based on the guided prayer. You’re paired with people from your region and demographic so you can have a conversation about the daily prayer. Our goal is to lead people into a face-to-face experience with Jesus.
To find out more about Chelsea and Churchome, visit churchome.org