"Nobody wants to talk about failure," said Pastor Ryan Sharp. "As a new church, you try hard to build it and then you slap God's name onto it, so there is a certain sense of gravity and guilt about failing."
Twenty-eight-year-old Sharp reflected on the highs and lows of being a pastor. "I don't know the mechanics of why failure happens. I look at it in more of a deistic experience rather than it was God's will to grow our church and then shut it down. I attribute our failure to many things," said Pastor Sharp.
Pastor Scott Crosley founded Anchor Point Church in 2003. Crosley raised $120,000 in support by sending a DVD to 700 people, including family and friends. "I've always been a person to dream big dreams, to have big visions," said Crosley. On December 31, 2002, Crosley left his role as pastor of evangelism and outreach at the Desert Vineyard church in Lancaster, California, and moved to Oceanside. Two families moved with Crosley to begin work for the church. Anchor Point's first service was held September 14, 2003, at Oceanside High School. The church started with five families, six married couples, six single recent college graduates, and four homeless people.
Crosley began to have second thoughts after four months into starting the church. "I quickly realized we didn't have a core group of people to support the church," said Crosley. "One of the friends that moved with me to start the church quit." Crosley fired the second friend for financial reasons.
Crosley prayed with his family and decided to leave the church after four months. At the time, Crosley's wife was pregnant with their third child. "One of the main reasons I left was the uncertainty of the finances and the toll this had on my wife. In retrospect, I was kind of prideful. I imagined that people would be drawn to the church because I was leading it. God really humbled me." Crosley spent the rest of 2004 delivering papers at 4 a.m. and twisting balloon animals at TGIFriday's in the evenings. Six weeks ago, Crosley joined the Army as a chaplain. He told me he is scheduled to go to Iraq for a year in September.
Upon leaving, Crosley handed the church over to Ryan Sharp. "Ryan and his wife, Holly, taught us what grace is all about. Ryan had more of an impact on me than anyone I've ever known. He and his wife lived out what it means to be a Christian," commented Crosley. Crosley and his wife named their last child after Ryan, in honor of this relationship.
"After Scott left, there was an initial surge of excitement because he seemed depressed," said Pastor Ryan Sharp. "The people told me, wherever you take us, we'll go." Sharp started to change the church. He moved to a Bible-study format that was held in people's homes.
"People view church success as a stable ministry, with a growing number of people attending the services. I've revamped my idea of what success looks like now," said Sharp. "I see success as people sacrificing more than they had, people giving more away. I see success as people connecting to nonchurch people and showing their faith and telling the story of God in their own words. My goal isn't to grow the service, but to get people to go out and do the things we speak about at church."
Through the changes, the church has shrunk to a dozen people. Sharp has discussed closing the church down. "People change a lot slower than I imagined. I always thought people would get this stuff and live it. But the dam never broke where people got it," said Sharp. "Fifty percent of the decision to dissolve the church is my failure and my impatience with reaching my expectations."
I spoke with Rhianon Wilhoit. Wilhoit and her husband attend Anchor Point. "As Christians we need to admit we have questions. Before my experience here, I never questioned my faith. I had all of the Christian cliché answers. In our community, we embrace questions. Previously, what I had known of Christianity was routine. I wanted more but didn't know how." At Anchor Point, Wilhoit believes she is safe to ask questions and wrestle with the Bible. "What we have at Anchor Point is the only thing that feels real right now in my life," Wilhoit remarked. "We met last Wednesday to discuss where we go from here, and whether or not we will shut down the church. The whole time tears were streaming down my face. I can't imagine life without the people from Anchor Point. We've been able to be vulnerable together, to be intimate and speak about difficult things together."
In closing, I asked Sharp what happens to people after they die. "The person who began this church is totally different than who I am today. I believe everybody goes to be with God. I don't know how it works but I like C.S. Lewis's idea of a singular place where people will enjoy it differently based on their relationship with God." I asked Sharp where Christ fits into his faith. "I can be okay with Christ's cross showing how far God would go to bring the Kingdom into this world. I believe God is redeeming all of humanity," Pastor Sharp replied.
Founded locally: September 14, 2003
Senior pastor: Pastor Ryan Sharp
Congregation size: 12
Staff size: 0
Sunday school enrollment: 0
Annual budget: 0
Weekly giving: 0
Singles program: no
Meeting time: 6:30 p.m. Friday nights
Length of meeting: 1-3 hours