By CRAIG KLEIMEYER
On Friday, April 6 thousands of people all over the world will spend their Friday night not movie watching or sharing dinner with family or friends— but taking six hours to study the Bible and what it says about suffering.
At the heart of the night is the fact that churches in many countries are forced to meet in secret because of persecution, but the physical heart of it is right off Highway 119 at the Church at Brook Hills.
Seeing firsthand the risks Christians in persecuted countries took to study the Bible led Brook Hills Pastor David Platt to start Secret Church, a sort of theological boot camp, in 2006.
“We wanted to get together and not have all of the bells and whistles or big programming, but just make the Word the center,” said Communications Director for Disciple-Making International Angelia Stewart.
Today the 2,300 seats at Brook Hills for a Secret Church event sell out in a couple of minutes. And that number is only a small fraction of the people tuning in to Secret Church through simulcast worldwide. At the last event in November, 22 groups in 14 other countries tuned in. In addition, around 75 groups in the Birmingham metro area and 55 churches and 127 small groups in Alabamagathered to watch.
Platt’s book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, published in 2010, helped the word about Secret Church spread faster.
“It’s been kind of organic and viral,” Stewart said. “It’s monumental, and it doesn’t get old.”
When Secret Church first started, it was not publicized much—the church announced it at the services and posted information about it on the web. About 1000 people came to the first event.
Jenny Clark, who lives in Eagle Point subdivision, has been impressed by the five or six Secret Churches she has attended since 2007. She said that she started going to them “before it all became a craze.”
“Knowing that it will last until at least midnight, and that people are here to study the Word for that many hours . . . it’s just amazing to me,” she said. “Instead of coasting along in our faith, it allows us to dig deeper.” Clark hopes that everyone can attend and experience a Secret Church and understand its mission.
According to Stewart, people come in to Secret Church thinking it will be too long to sit down and that it lasts too late into the night, but then they will end up not wanting to leave.
“People are hungry for the Word of God. They are hungry and want more,” she said.
Good Friday’s Secret Church on The Cross and Suffering will focus on how the picture of Christ’s suffering on the cross addresses our questions about our suffering. Platt will focus on how the Gospel strengthens, sustains, supports and satisfies us in the middle of suffering.
At each Secret Church, The Brook Hills Global team chooses the prayer focus from connections that the church has all around the world. The night of April 6 will be focused on the Horn of Africa peninsula in east Africa.
By the fourth Secret Church, the demands for tickets got greater, and they explored the idea of simulcasting it.
The first time Brook Hills offered the simulcast in 2008, a group tuned in from Cambodia.
Worldwide, about 200 churches usually have simulcasts for Secret Church. Last year, a chaplain for the Army was teaching a small group in Afghanistan and wanted to have a simulcast for them there, so Brook Hills reached out to them. There have been simulcasts as far away as India, Indonesia, Hawaii, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. Some places cannot be named due to persecution in their countries.
Secret Church sessions have been translated into 10 languages now, and six are available for download on the website. Past sessions on topics such as “Who is God?”, “A Survey of the Old Testament” or “How to Read the Bible” are available for free download or for purchase on DVD and CD on the site so they can be taken to any place.
Secret Church’s mission is not to just teach those who are present but for those who are taught to share what they learn with their neighbors, coworkers, friends and whoever they meet wherever they are.
“We want people to take what they’ve learned out of the context of church,” Stewart said. “Secret Church is meant to keep going.”
For more information on how to broadcast the event to a church or home, visit www.disciplemakingintl.org/secretchurch/. Local churches including Christ Church United Methodist and Meadow Brook Baptist are hosting simulcasts of the event. To find the latest list of simulcast locations, visit www.lifeway.com/n/Product-Family/Secret-Church-Simulcast-with-David-Platt?type=events. A small fee is charged to cover the cost of materials.