In the teen section of Scripps Mesa Bible Church's library/snack room, Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X gets face-out treatment. Someone has taken a highlighter to certain passages. One such: "I wonder that all things seem to be from hell these days...dates, jobs, parties, weather. Could the situation be that we no longer believe in that particular place? Or maybe we were all promised heaven in our lifetimes, and what we ended up with can't help but suffer in comparison." The oblong box that serves as the worship space -- two tones of gray on the walls, gray industrial carpeting, a small cherrywood stage, and a white baby-grand piano off to the side -- was not full on Sunday, but a fair number of those who did attend had youth on their side. The band's young bass player, barefoot and in shorts, offered a young man's hurried prayer: "...that we may find blessing and that we all enjoy ourselves and learn something new and just feel connected with You in a way that we normally can't during the week..." (The music itself skewed a little older, full of mellow harmonies and driven by the muffled chords of the piano.)
Pastor Clark announced a meeting of the women's ministry at his house: "a chance for women to let your voices be heard. What is the direction of the women's ministry?... How do we reach out to other women in this area and within our own church?" He invited men to an upcoming men's summit. And he offered prayer for "Matt and Carie Olson and their four kids," as they performed missionary work in Africa.
Next week, said Clark, the church would be beginning a six-week series on evangelism. "Evangelism is probably one of the dirty words of our culture.... People do not want to be evangelized. They think it's pushy, intolerant, and insensitive -- and a lot of times, they're right." He questioned the formulaic, cold-call approach of starting up a "conversation leading to spiritual things," then answering objections and finishing with "a prayer to invite Jesus Christ to be their personal Lord and savior."
"What if this model of evangelization is too narrow? What if there are several styles? What if Scripture gave examples of those styles? What if God wired every one of us uniquely...so we could reach different people in different ways without compromising the truth of Scripture? We're going to be talking about finding a place of commonality between us and them."
Pastor Clark had been at the church for two months and was ready to "issue a challenge...I love you guys already, but I didn't just come here to take care of you guys.... I came here because I think God wants to use you guys and me to reach other people, to show them who Jesus Christ is." Clark said that 30,000 people lived in Scripps Ranch and that an online search had yielded only ten churches. "That's a lot of people that God has called us to reach.... I'm not planning to retool us into some megachurch.... I would love to see us grow to a size where we could start birthing other churches. I am totally convinced that churches are most effective when they are big enough to meet the essential spiritual needs of the people...and small enough that it takes everybody in the church to meet those needs.... I don't think we're they're yet."
He read from the Book of Joshua. The Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, but the Reubenites and Gadites had begged to remain, "because their needs were being met on the side of the river they were already on. I'm convinced that the most dangerous place we can be as a church is the place where our needs are being met. There's no challenge.... You say, 'I don't want to cross over to that place where I can have a deeper walk with God, where things are more uncertain.'"
But. "Moses calls the Reubenites and Gadites a brood of sinners. He hears them saying... they're unwilling to see past their own needs to the needs of the larger community.... I think it's really easy to approach church through selfish motives." But the Reubenites and Gadites offered to arm themselves and go ahead of the Israelites. They said, "We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has his inheritance." They "went across the river for a season. This is one of those seasons.... I want to encourage you to be praying and thinking about what God has called you to be a part of in this congregation."
What happens when we die?
"I believe," says Clark, "that if you do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior, then the Bible is very clear: you will spend eternity separated from God. But if you do, then you'll spend eternity with Him."
10635-B Scripps Ranch Boulevard, Scripps Ranch
Denomination: Baptist General Conference
Founded locally: 1982
Senior pastor: Kevin Clark
Congregation size: 80
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: about 25 adults, 18 children
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly casual, lots of jeans and khakis, but few T-shirts.
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour