"In the past, people's mindset was, if people aren't having kids, how is the Reformed faith going to grow?" said Rick Roeda, the director of youth ministries at San Diego Christian Reformed Church (SDCRC). "Reformed churches primarily grow through birth and through church transfer. We're not as seeker-friendly as the Rock or happy-clappy churches." Roeda estimated that over 85 percent of people who transfer to SDCRC do so out of a theological conviction. "People come from Shadow Mountain or the Calvary system because they want to move from some of the teachings they have received to a deeper theology." Roeda said he did not want to be critical of these churches. "If someone was a new believer, I would recommend these churches to them. What they are doing is appealing in that they have a tremendous growth of new believers." Roeda said SDCRC is in a transitional phase. "Right now there is a wake-up call, a realization that in order for [Reformed Churches] to survive as a group, we need to get out of our shells. The typical reformed experience is one where people come to church reverent, they don't say much. An organ leads them through several hymns before the pastor preaches. People come with their Sunday best on for the Lord."
Graeme Koch, the son of SDCRC's pastor agreed with Roeda's characterization of Reformed church. "If people enter wearing shorts and a T-shirt into a Reformed church, people might look at you funny. They would accept you, but eventually, they would want you to fit their mold. They would want these people to get cleaned up and wear the right clothes. The stereotype is that we act like the frozen-chosen, that Reformed people are not emotional. In the past, people looked like statues when we sang hymns."
"A year ago, when I arrived, SDCRC's music was just an organ. Now we have a praise team, PowerPoint slides, drums, and guitars," said Roeda. "This change has not been the easiest. Most of the people have an excitement and joy about what we are doing. Yet, there has been some criticism and complaints. People have left the church over these changes. Families have left for more conservative churches, such as the United Reform Church in Santee or Escondido, which broke off from the CRC denomination. My biased view of this is these people think church was good in the '50s, so why should we change it?"
Koch said things have changed at SDCRC. "Now we are not just singing out of a book, but we get more emotion out of it. But hymns will always be around because of their rich theology. Modern-day songs often miss this theological richness.
"Right now, we are trying to regain our identity, and things are stabilizing. The goal is to create a place where all people can worship together," said Roeda. "God wants us to create a place that people feel welcome. Ultimately, we aren't going to change what we believe for the people. But as culture and society change, we need to minister to new generations and their needs. If our church is in a time-warp, we are going to miss reaching our community."
Monica Rosales, a college student, has participated in this outreach to the community around the church. "We are trying to get more into the community around us. This summer, we offered kids a Vacation Bible School. We have had more families and kids attend the church because of our outreach."
Roeda said that many children at SDCRC do not have as much interaction with other non-Christian children. "Our church has a lot of home-schooled children. I'd say that 30 percent of the kids at the church are home schooled. We probably have about 25 percent that attend public schools. The rest go to Christian private schools," said Roeda. "The kids that go to public schools want to be challenged and put their faith into action. They primarily view the school as a mission field. Most only send their children to public school if they believe their faith is strong enough. Some do it for financial reasons.
"Christians want to see public schools changed. We pray that Christian leaders would get involved. Public schools are set up in opposition to the Christian faith," said Roeda. "We believe that God is evident and able to work through all situations and systems. God tolerates public schools. God disapproves of much of what they teach, and they need to be fundamentally changed."
SDCRC's evening service began with a responsive reading and several hymns. Reverend Bill Miedema preached about change. "We often don't like that there is a constancy of change. Change is part of life. For example, God allows churches to go down the drain. A lot of churches are in hospice right now. I trust God in this; these churches need to change. Reverend Miedema encouraged the congregants to ask if their changes in life are for the better or worse. "Better changes are changes toward God," said Miedema. Reverend Miedema concluded the sermon, "God designed all change with a purpose. You may not sense it, feel it, or sometimes you don't believe it, but if you trust and have faith in God, He's right there through all life's changes."
I asked Rick Roeda what happens to a person after he dies. "A person dies and he goes to heaven or hell," replied Roeda. "You get to heaven by believing that Jesus Christ is your personal savior that died for your sins on the cross. Jesus is the only way to heaven."
6745 Amherst Street, La Mesa
Denomination: Christian Reformed Church of North America
Founded locally: 1943
Senior pastor: Neville Koch
Congregation size: 242
Staff size: 5
Sunday school enrollment: 60
Annual budget: $275,000
Weekly giving: $6,000
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to business casual
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m., 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: one hour