The end goal was not to reach a specific age group.
A few years ago, groups ministering to people in their twenties seemed abundant. Churches across
the United States launched services specifically geared toward 18- to 30-year-olds, and the growth
of many of these services quickly outpaced the parent church. At times, the homogeneous nature of these services and power struggles with their parent churches have led these ministries to shut down.
However, for many twentysomething ministries, these changes haven’t signaled an end to their vision, merely a change of focus. Changes in the cultural mind-set of ministries are becoming more important than targeting specific demographics.
Mike Howerton was hired to lead and teach at the Illuminate church in conjunction with the Overlake Christian Church at a time when “the goal was to grow from the outside by launching a missional arm of worship services intended to reach a ‘psychographic’ that had either become disenfranchised from church, or that was entirely unchurched.” In other words, the end goal was not to reach a specific age group, but rather to reach a segment of the population with similar ideals, regardless of their age. To do this, Illuminate did not remove itself from the “mother church,” choosing to remain committed to providing alternative Sunday worship services, creating one church with several service options. Faith Community Church in Santa Cruz experienced a similar phenomenon. The church dealt with a separation of philosophies, and for an entire year, the discussion of moving to another location presented itself within teachings from the book of Acts. But the ministry is not specifically a twentysomethings group. During the split from their “mother church,” Twin Lakes Baptist Church, lead pastor Andy Lewis says, “we were dealing with more of a mind-set than an age or stage.”
No matter the reason, it seems that the consensus among new ministries is often to form when God encourages the church to act. Howerton says, “We don’t build the church, Jesus does, but we are invited to partner with Him, as He leads.” And as Lewis describes, “God was asking me to jump over the cultural barriers to bring the Gospel to the people rather than asking them to get over their barriers to come to us.” God’s mission was heard, and the churches acted accordingly.
For these church plants, the decision to physically split off has more to do with breaking cultural boundaries than breaking denominational ties. Andy Lewis saw leaving the Twin Lakes Baptist Church’s property as a way to reach a community that didn’t feel safe on traditional church grounds. “Our team kept trying to invite people to come to our postmodern ministry, and we kept finding out they were afraid to even park on Twin Lakes’ big campus,” Lewis said. “I began to find that for the people I had a heart to reach, there were a lot of cultural hurdles they had to get over to worship with us.”
For Lewis this meant moving his ministry to the old Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, where he hopes outsiders might see a city landmark instead of just another church. For Faith Community Church, the location means more than just a pretty building. Th e theater represents community and safety. It is a nonthreatening space for people who are turned off by a “Christian compound,” as Lewis puts it. “In our case it’s played out in worshiping at an old art-deco theater that has book readings, body-building flexoffs, art films, surf films, as well as us Christians every Sunday morning,” he said.
Sometimes the splitting of churches can seem like a sign of strife or disagreement in the church, but Matt Hammett, pastor of Flood-San Diego, a planting of the College Avenue Baptist Church, sees it as a sign of a healthy church. “Reproduction is embedded in nature. It doesn’t make sense that it wouldn’t be integral to churches. Everything God makes He makes to reproduce, and it is a sign of health.”
These daughter churches become more than just church for a young generation that’s repackaged like a soft drink. It becomes the template of how culture worships the creator, and the ongoing growth and evolution of how the church is involved in its community. Later on, those young church plants will grow and reproduce more churches that will reach the world in ways that earlier churches couldn’t. Hammett is already seeing seeds from Flood beginning to sprout. They’ve already started “daughtering” churches in Sacramento, Phoenix and Malawi.
The overall attitude toward church planting is represented within a set of ideals. Howerton explains that the goal of Illuminate is to challenge the church’s stereotypes of being “boring, stuff y, self-important and hypocritically preachy” and to include unique values, such as passion, transcendence, clarity and intimacy, within the new service. Illuminate successfully accomplishes these tasks. “We laugh at ourselves, use humor to set people at ease, rock our worship to Jesus and try to land messages where real people really live,” Howerton says.
Flood’s distinguished traits are also identified as unique. Hammett says, “More than anything, we need churches who are clear on their own identity (purpose, call, vision), not programmatic prototypes that ride the latest trend, valuing cool over authenticity.” Flood rents out its worship location from a local high school, which directly relates to the reality of their vision and their strong distinctive characteristics as a church. “Being on the campus has shaped our view of mission,” Hammett explains, as he points out the challenges that present themselves. “We have no AC, interesting wildlife (roaches), bathrooms with no stall doors, makeshift signage and the list goes on. But somehow, we know God is in it.”
Andy Lewis has not fully established where the uniqueness of his church lies, but he knows the people he teaches “are suspicious of organized, well-financed, slick, well-crafted and well-produced faith.” Faith Community Church is about being accessible to the people of Santa Cruz and devoted to the city itself. The church itself is a product of its community and in turn, Rio Theater provides the perfect place of worship for its citizens. As Lewis says, “We’re not trying to attract a certain kind of person (those with big hair and tattoos, or whatever). We’re trying to be authentically ourselves, knowing that in being ourselves we will reach those