Reno, NV 89501
The growth of Living Stones church has been nothing short of remarkable. From a small Bible study among friends, the congregation has outgrown several venues. On Oct. 3, the congregation moved into its new 15,000 square feet church at 445 S. Virginia St. The new campus has offices, prayer rooms, storage, childcare and Sunday school facilities, and a 550-600-person sanctuary.
I’ve attended two of the services at Living Stones, the first time back in May 2007 at Grace Church and then again in February 2010, when the congregation was in Lawlor Events Center. The services have been among my favorites in the Christian community in Northern Nevada. In fact, I’d say that while it has similarities in style to some of the more modern evangelical groups out there, Living Stones is pretty unique with its music- and multimedia-oriented yet solidly Bible-based ministry. Pastor Harvey Turner leads the church and heads up the preaching, and Pastor Donald Zimmerman is in charge of the music.
I joined Pastor George Velarde, who’s in charge of operations and vision implementation, for a tour of the new church and a discussion of how—in a community not known for its churchiness—Living Stones grew into one of the most dynamic congregations around.
The church’s beginnings weren’t portentous. “There were several of us who were friends who basically met through the party scene,” Velarde said. “One of the guys, Ricky Turner, and I lived together in an apartment down in South Reno. His older brother, Harvey Turner—the lead pastor here at the church—he recognized that his group of friends would never be interested in going to church. Knowing that we would never set foot into a church, he decided that he wanted to bring that message that the church offers to us. He and Ricky said they wanted to do a Bible study in our apartment in hopes that I would grow and come to know Jesus.”
The group started meeting back in August 1998. Then in about 2000, they were all attending Grace Church, which asked them to head up an existent college group. That college group began meeting at a house and grew to about 60 people. Toward the end of 2002, bursting at the seams, they moved to the church from the house and began a Friday night service, which grew to about 250 people. About 2005, they added a 7 p.m. Sunday night service. Filling up the Friday and Sunday services, they added a 5 p.m. Sunday service, but the Saturday gap in the services created problems, so they focused on Sunday evenings. Even Grace was too small, though, so they launched their first morning service at Reno High in August 2008. About seven months later, they outgrew that venue and moved to Lawlor.
“Right now we have about 1,200 adults every weekend, and probably 150 children,” says Velarde. “Since we opened the morning venue, we’ve seen an increased growth in our older generations—40s, 50s, 60s and beyond—that has really resonated with the style of ministry we do. Our evenings are still heavily populated by college students. The average age of our morning services is 30-40. Evenings is probably 20-30.”
The group is sophisticated with its use of social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Maybe that’s part of why it has had such success among the younger crowd. They’re also sophisticated with visual and aural media. Perhaps there are more young people in this church because they feel comfortable there.
“We’ve always grown by word of mouth,” says Velarde. “Come and hear, come and see. It’s always been kind of a philosophy of our ministry: Make this place where it doesn’t feel judgmental. We’ve always wanted to make it a laid-back environment, but at the same time, you can’t compromise the message. You can’t water it down. And I think it’s that message that resonates with people’s hearts and draws them back.”