San Diego Denomination: The Christian and Missionary Alliance
Address: 9050 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa, 858-271-7730
Founded locally: 1975
Senior pastor: Bill Impey
Congregation size: 75
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 20
Annual budget: $175,000
Weekly giving: $2800
Singles program: developing
Diversity: white, Hispanic
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1-1/4 hours
"Traditional churches are in a panic. A lot of pastors are tired. They have lost their love for people, for the lost, and the ability to innovate. These pastors hope they can survive for ten more years because they have no other vocation. These pastors feel threatened. They think they will be replaced by younger pastors," said Pastor Bill Impey. Impey said he knows pastors who have been replaced. In one case, "The pastor's congregation forced him out. The congregation wanted to go in a different direction than the pastor."
Pastor Impey moved from the Pacific Northwest one-and-a-half years ago at the request of his denomination. The denomination hoped he would be able to turn Grace church around. "They felt that the church could become a more vibrant part of the community, a place where Christianity is experienced in the local neighborhood," said Impey.
Prior to Impey's arrival, the church was more traditional. "Traditionalism is going away. Churches became nostalgic for an era that doesn't exist anymore. Jesus offered eternal life to people, not churches," said Impey. "Traditional churches will slowly fade away into obscurity if they do not change." Impey calls the congregation to live out their faith and help their neighbors. Impey encourages the church's pursuit of local immigrant populations that surround the church. "We want to reflect our local culture and have more Filipinos, Asians, and other ethnicities," said Impey. Pastor Impey said some people did not want to go in this new direction. "We lost people who want their Christianity to be more about their own personal faith. They didn't want to have their beliefs impact how they are living."
Erik Echegaray spoke about some of the changes Impey brought to the church. "The appearance of the church is more casual. In the service, we have round coffee tables set up. I love this. People can grab a coffee and listen to the sermon. Before, the atmosphere was more formal and stuffy. The music has also changed. We have gone from predominantly hymns, where we trudged through the hymnal, to contemporary worship. A lot of people didn't like the bongo beat and guitars, so they left." Echegaray said there are more family events, small groups, and barbecues after the service to build community. "Before, people would leave right after church. Now, people want to stick around."
Pastor Impey sees a shift in the church because of postmodernity, the rejection of the optimism of reason and logic of modernity. The postmodern church moves from the creation of religious programs and absolute claims toward a more experiential faith and greater acceptance of mystery in biblical passages. "My belief is that postmodernity is only a transitional point," explained Pastor Impey. "We haven't arrived at what is still to come. Postmodernity has brought a shift that hasn't been addressed by the church as a whole." Impey said that today's church has lost much of its roots in historical Christianity. "Ancient teachings that are valuable have been lost on this culture. People no longer know why they believe what they believe."
Impey sees this reformation as doctrinal, while the reformation Martin Luther began was ecclesiological. "Luther only asked valid questions about the Catholic Church and the Pope. He wanted to help change the church, but it went much farther than what he intended. Doctrine only began to be talked about openly because of this movement.
"We, as a church, have begun to fulfill something that has been on my heart for six months," Pastor Impey began his sermon. In the sermon, Impey interacted with the congregation; he frequently used people's names and examples from their lives.
"Last Sunday, we had in our midst a woman who was not a Christian. After the service, this woman said to me that if she believed there was a God, this would be the church she'd attend. She said she enjoyed the way the people live out their Christianity and how they are so open. And she didn't mean that we are open and tolerant in a Unitarian way." Impey told the congregation they could not separate "living and speaking about Christianity. A lot of political leaders say they are Christian but they are only speaking it. They are not speaking it with the conversation of their life. If you live the gospel, people will want to hear your message.
"Many Christians have gone to churches that teach you how to act. Be good and don't cuss or drink. This was considered being a good Christian. In modern Christianity, we teach people how to act as a Christian but not from their hearts," said Impey. "We don't behave a certain way to get into heaven. We're going beyond Christianity as behavior. We need to get beyond; if we don't live in a particular way, God will be ticked off. This is karma Christianity. If I live good, God will bless me. If I don't, God will curse me. We want to be a church that moves away from formulated Christianity."
I asked Pastor Impey what he believed happened to a person after they die. "I don't like the topic that people will be eternally tormented," replied Impey. "If an unbeliever dies, he goes to Shoel [hell]. The believer goes to the current state of heaven. Eventually, there will be a new heaven that will be established when all the elect have been redeemed. At this point, unbelievers will face final judgment in a lake of fire."