In 2003, a new church showed up in an unlikely location – an office building on Rockside Road near the I-77 interchange. But that’s just the way the founding pastor wanted it. Now, 20 years later, Rockside Church is going strong, in the same location, with the same mission it had when it started.
In 2002, Pastor Donna Barrett was in her seventh year serving as an associate pastor at Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Parma (Now Bethel Christian), when she said God laid a mission on her heart to create a new church.
“Coming from a paralegal background, I wanted a location that was centrally located … and one where businesspeople would be comfortable,” said Barrett.
At the same time she was searching for a location, local church leaders had been specifically praying for the city of Independence. These actions came to fruition when Barrett and about 30 members of Bethel Temple planted Rockside Church at the Indiana Wesleyan University building at 4100 Rockside Rd. The church held its first Sunday service on Sept. 7, 2003.
Barrett stepped down as lead pastor in 2018 to accept a position in national church leadership. She is currently the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri.
Rockside Church is part of the Assemblies of God Christian denomination. The AG believes the Bible is the only authoritative written word of God; there is one God in three persons: the Father, the son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit; and Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven and is coming again. Other beliefs include baptism of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the speaking of tongues.
In addition, Rockside Church has its own “core values” including prayer, worship, a biblical worldview, empowering people for ministry, care for leadership, being missionaries to the city, simplicity and grace.
Pastor Michele Thompson took the reins of the church in 2018. She said the church currently has about 90 regular attendees split between in-person and online. The church had experienced steady growth before the pandemic and is starting to see numbers rise again.
Thompson said she was initially drawn to Rockside Church for several reasons, one of which was the core value of prayer. She said, “We are not just a church that says it prays, but we are committed to having our lives be transformed by those prayers.”
The three pillars of Rockside Church, according to Thompson, are prayer, missions and discipleship. The church financially supports 51 missionaries and mission organizations around the region and globe. Church members have also sent two families into the international mission field.
The church takes its core value of being “missionaries to the city” seriously. Thompson is the chaplain for the Independence Police Department and is involved with other citywide meetings and events.
Rockside Church hosts several community outreach events throughout the year. Upcoming is the “Light the Night” outreach on Oct. 31 in which church members will hand out popcorn, hot chocolate and bags of candy in Parma, Brooklyn and Independence. The goal is to bless parents and connect them with a church home if they don’t already have one. For more information, visit the “Events” page at rocksidechurch.com.
Other events include blessing local foster families at Easter, an annual Fall Fest and pop-up Vacation Bible School events throughout the year in local neighborhoods.
Thompson said she sees discipleship as the church’s focus for the next few years. “We believe the mission of Jesus is to develop disciples who will make other disciples,” she said. “Training those leaders is the church’s responsibility.”
Barrett said she was thrilled with how Thompson was “honoring the past while projecting into the future,” and building on the foundation she started 20 years ago.
Rockside Church holds Sunday morning services at 10:30 a.m. and childcare is available. Services are also live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page. ∞
Photo: Donna Barrett and Pastor Michele Thompson display a Proclamation from the City of Independence. Photo courtesy of Ron Hollowell.