by Chris Canon
On January 27 of this year, Malibu Presbyterian Church opened the doors of their newly rebuilt sanctuary. Five years earlier, their church had been gutted by the Canyon Fire, which charred more than 4,000 acres and destroyed 21 structures. When asked by local media how it felt to have his church burn to the ground, Senior Pastor Greg Hughes replied plainly, “Our church didn’t burn down. Our building did.” And in one brief moment, Pastor Hughes reminded us of how far we have drifted in our understanding of “church.”
The Church is not a place, but a people.
I’ve spent my entire 51 years in the South Bay as a regular church-goer. From my formative years as a Catholic at St. John Fisher, to my early days in ministry at Hope Chapel, to my current role as Lead Pastor of King’s Harbor Church, I know a little something about church life in the South Bay. People talk about “going” to church. It’s a part of our vernacular now. But it wasn’t always that way.
When Saul of Tarsus went about persecuting the Church, he didn’t go to a building. He went “house to house.” The Church, rightly defined, is a community of imperfect people who are endeavoring to represent the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Rather than being concerned with “going” to church, the Church needs to “be” the Church. As I survey the landscape of our community, I am seeing signs that the Church is reclaiming it’s name and mission.
The first sign of hope I see for church revitalization in our community is in the growing number of churches that are meeting in non-traditional settings. Last summer saw four churches conducting worship services on SouthBay beaches. Other congregations are meeting in schools, parks and restaurants. Economic hardship combined with limited opportunities to build church facilities have forced religious leaders to reconsider the conventional wisdom of being facility-driven as a means to attract people. While this weekly set up and tear down necessitates a volunteer work force, it is also creating community within the community.
Jesus compels his followers to “leave the building” and be the church. To serve, rather than be served. To love those who are unloved, unloveable and unloving. No where in the Gospels does Jesus command people to go to church. He does, however, command the Church go to people. It’s happening in the South Bay. The Church is leaving the building.
Compassion ministries to the poor and needy in our community are growing. Several congregations are opening their doors to shelter the homeless while they seek long term housing. Other churches are seeking to reduce the growing number of women in our community who are victims of human trafficking and slavery. One church recently created The Race for Justice, a half day event in which “competitors” experienced first hand the perils of being dependent on others for safety and provisions. As the Church reclaims its role in culture, perhaps city planners and officials will once again see the value of making room in their master planning for such congregations.
A third dynamic in which I see hope springing forth concerns the ever-present reality of territorialism. Growing up surfing in the South Bay, I am accustomed to localism. I was surprised to find that church life was not much different. Folks can be as fanatical about their congregation as they are about their football teams and political preferences. Unfortunately this flies in the face of the assertion of the Apostle Paul: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood…” Maybe it is a universal human condition, but divisiveness and animosity between “believers” is contrary to Jesus’ admonition to his followers: “By your love for one another will all people know that you are my disciples.”
Again, I see significant breakthroughs taking place in the South Bay. Congregations are coming together to serve our community, putting aside decades old theological differences for the sake of advancing God’s mandates for the Church.
Sharefest is celebrating it’s 10th annual workday in May. Over 40 churches and non-profit organizations will work at South Bay schools for free, painting murals and doing repairs. Believers from various denominations will work shoulder to shoulder for the common good.
Each month, over 25 pastors from around the South Bay meet for prayer and encouragement. We hare resources in the hopes of seeing everyone succeed.
Because our enemy doesn’t have skin.
These are exciting times for the Church of the South Bay. Reclaiming our identity as a people not a place, living in our communities with the love of Jesus, and putting aside insignificant differences for the cause of Christ is good. I think everyone wins when this happens.
I’m not sure what you call that. I call it progress.
Chris Cannon is the pastor of King’s Harbor Church. KingsHarbor.org