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Community is a Mission

Joel Thomas Shares His Vision on Serving the Community

When you walk through the doors of Mission Community Church on Sunday morning, you might find yourself wondering: Is this a rock concert or Sunday service? Guitar music fills the theater and drifts out into the courtyard. Children laugh and play on the grass as their parents find time to catch up with friends before the service starts. There’s always a smiling face to greet you and to welcome you inside. 

This has always been lead pastor Joel Thomas’ vision: a church that is for everyone.

“Our passion is that we want the community to be better for us being here,” Joel says.

Joel, his wife, Jenn, and their four children relocated to Gilbert five years ago with a unique vision for growing the church in this community. 

“I think, in order for the church not to be left behind, we have to figure out a way to become more accessible and more integrated into the community throughout the week, not just on the weekends. I think that this happens through the community seeing the church as somebody that serves the community,” Joel says.

Before Thomas relocated to Gilbert, he worked with Andy Stanley helping to create what would become North-Point Ministries (NPM) based in Atlanta, transforming an 800-person congregation into 40,000 people served across seven churches.

Today, NPM consists of the seven churches in the Atlanta area and a network of more than 90 churches around the globe, including Mission Community Church in Gilbert.

Andy is one of American’s most influential communicators, reaching more than 7 million households around the world each month through live-steam, television and podcast. He stopped by Gilbert to visit with his close friend Joel and to discuss their emerging vision of the modern church.

“I think this campus needs to feel more like a community center,” Joel says.

Joel's vision is that the church will become an active, vibrant part of the town, with amphitheaters, cafes, splash pads, after-school programs and coworking spaces—a destination that people are familiar with and is run by people of faith who love their community enough to provide meaningful services for everyone.

After services, you can usually find Joel outside meeting and reconnecting with the Mission Community. He strives to be an approachable and available pastor.

“I think in order to connect with an emerging culture, the church will have to look dramatically different,” Joel says.

For Joel, the most important part the modern church is being for everyone. He believes that for too long the church has been characterized about who they are against instead of who they are for. Joel's vision includes focusing on who the church is for.

“We want our neighbors—whether they believe the same as us or not—to know that we want the most for them. We want the best for them,” Joel says. “We think our legacy is how we are going to impact those people who are around us and those who come behind us, and that is why, unapologetically, we are going to be a church that is for our next-door neighbors.”