Inside Miles McPherson’s Rock Church
What’s driving Point Loma’s unstoppable Rock Church? Pastor Miles McPherson says it’s not politics or social issues—it’s service.
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The Rock Church in Point Loma
City Councilman Carl DeMaio is not a face you’d expect to see at the Rock Church, the local evangelical Christian powerhouse led by former San Diego Charger Miles McPherson.
DeMaio, who is a San Diego mayoral candidate, is also openly gay and in a relationship. Despite the Rock’s public stance against gay marriage, the local politician says he received a “warm reception” at a recent Sunday service.
“The church wants to have a positive influence, and government needs to do a better job partnering with faith-based organizations,” he says. “I’m usually hitting them up for help.”
This partnership and the call to service are part of the church’s mission, according to McPherson. Occasionally he enters into larger social debates, such as race or gay marriage, but mostly his focus is local. His sermons are currently driven by the theme “Love Your City.”
San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne
The pastor has a sizable platform to speak from, both literally and figuratively. He’s a former defensive back and former cocaine user who is as comfortable in front of crowds as he is dealing with individuals on the street. The Rock is one of the area’s largest churches, and one of the fastest-growing churches in the country.
This spring, the Rock announced it was expanding. It already holds five services each Sunday at its Liberty Station facility, attracting more than 12,000 per week. More than 30,000 recently attended its 16 Easter weekend services. It also has a facility in San Marcos, where approximately 800 attend and watch McPherson’s sermon on a big screen. Over the next five years, the Rock plans to add another church campus per year throughout San Diego County. It’s calling the expansion campaign “Pervasive Hope.”
The church started in 2000 in Montezuma Hall at SDSU, then moved to its current state-of-the-art facility in 2007. An adjacent K-12 Rock Academy school has more than 400 students.
All ages and races attend the church—wealthy, poor, elderly, young, famous, infamous, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Anglos, devout, and simply curious—most of whom hold up Bibles and yell “Word!” when McPherson opens his own on stage. Adrian Gonzalez, the former San Diego Padre, attends when he can. Tim Tebow was there not long ago.
On a recent Sunday, McPherson sent a text message, “Are you in church?” to one of his friends who attends when possible. “Can’t,” came the quick reply. “Playing the Lakers today.”
Sunday services are precise, fast-moving productions of music, prayer, and sermon, using high-def cameras, 60 moving lights, and state-of-the-art sound equipment. McPherson’s style is casual, funny, and direct. Lillian Palmer, a 93-year-old former schoolteacher who was raised going to more traditional-style churches, says she likes attending because of the congregation’s diversity.
BY THE NUMBERS
»More than 12,000 attend each Sunday.
“People like to go there because they know they aren’t going to get criticized for how they look,” she says. “They get to feel normal.”
But as anyone associated with the Rock Church will attest, what happens on Sundays isn’t really the point. McPherson provides a weekly reminder that the way to love God is to serve others.
“The Rock is the finest representative of an externally focused church,” says Ken Blanchard, head of The Ken Blanchard Companies, and one of McPherson’s advisers. “They are constantly moving their people outside of their walls. Too many churches are just social clubs.”
The city of San Diego has received plenty from the church. How much?
“Easily more than $4 million worth of service in recent years,” says Tony Young, president of the San Diego City Council. Nearly 1,000 Rock volunteers donated more than 100,000 hours to clean up Balboa Park in 2010, where they also repaired and painted all 4,000 seats at the Starlight Bowl. This past March, hundreds of volunteers transformed the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in southeast San Diego. Volunteers rebuilt the playground, repaired buildings, cleaned the surrounding area, played with children, and provided makeover and counseling services.