In Matthew 15-17, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought He is and while most speculated on what the people were saying, only Simon Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said because that had been revealed to Peter through God, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock) and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
Palmetto’s Church on the Rock senior Pastor Ted Mathews said it’s the most important question asked by Jesus in the Bible. When he prayed what to name his church when he started it in 1985, he was guided to that question and hence the name. Mathews said he almost didn’t end up in Manatee County, saying a group in Atlanta wanted him to start a nondenominational church there.
“But I felt the Lord call me back to Manatee County where we started this church with just six parishioners meeting wherever we could,” he said.
As the church grew, Mathews was contacted by a man who told him God spoke to him for the first time while praying and the message was to contact him and to provide a space within a plaza he owned. The space had enough room for 52 people. Within months, the church outgrew the space.
The Church on the Rock continued to outgrow every space it went until it traded places with a church in Ellenton looking to downsize. Eventually, that church became too small as well. Eight years ago, the Church on the Rock purchased its own land in Palmetto, built the sanctuary and one building. Today the land is home to multiple buildings, including a Christian school.
While the church eventually turned the school over to a private entity, the mission of Church on the Rock has never changed.
“Kids ministries has and is always at the forefront of the church’s mission,” said Mathews. “When we first started, I always said we won’t have the most attractive facility or even the best pastor, but we would always focus on the children.”
More than 1,000 parishioners now call Church on the Rock their place of worship. Mathews said a typical Sunday hosts more than 500 people with 354 children attending the Christian school and participating in church ministries.
“We are very evangelized in everything we do,” he said. “We call ourselves a great commission church, which is to go into the world and make disciples. There is a triple theory that believes everything begins at the top and works its way down to the congregation, but we inverted that model and say that the pastors support and equip the congregation for the work in the ministry. It’s a very simple plan to win people by saving faith through Christ.”
Parishioners at Church of the Rock don’t just show up for service. The church has a spiritual track program, which Mathews said is a way to care for people and continue to know where they are at in life.
“I asked the Lord that we want to see Manatee County the hardest place to get to hell from,” he said.