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“We went to Europe four or five years ago,” said 20something pastor Jeff Holmes, “and we saw that the church...was not really relevant to the real life of most people — the young people, especially. They view the church as more of a museum. We see that happening in America today. A lot of churches that want to continue to have a voice have gone into what they call ‘bridge ministries.’ They’ll have cafés and things like that...different things can happen in different spaces. For us, the architecture dictates that we’ll probably never be bigger than 50 people. This is a very niche program, an outreach to find the artists in the community.”

The community is North Coast Church, a proper megachurch with multiple campuses and a slew of worship services. The niche program is Canvas, a loosely structured gathering in the main campus’ urban coffee bar. “The sermon may dictate our theme,” explained Holmes, “but we have permission to break away from the paradigm of songs, sermon, offering, go home. Every week, it’s something different.”

Sunday, the center table bore colored pencils, construction paper, scissors, glue, pipe cleaners, and three bags of artist’s clay. Holmes invited the congregation to come and pick up materials as he read from Psalm 40, written by David, “an awesome poet and musician, a man’s man who fought battles yet also had a sensitive side and could express some pretty intimate things.... ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the slimy pit.... He set my feet on a rock.... He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.’”

The sermon (edited down) played on three flat-screen TVs. Some took notes and followed along in their Bibles; others sculpted figures or drew with the colored pencils. Many sipped coffee drinks from the bar. Pastor Larry Osborne stressed the need for small gatherings of other Christians to aid in spiritual growth and lamented, “We’ve confused going to church with being the church.... You are a second-class Christian if you’re not connected to other Christians.... We all need support and accountability, and it comes as iron sharpens iron.”

Holmes took support and accountability as his theme for the service’s project. “You’re all artistic people and you don’t like rules, so all I’m going to tell you is that this part of the room is going to deal with support, and this part of the room with accountability. And you have to do this as a group.”

One couple — professed newcomers — excused themselves, saying, “I’m sorry — that was fun, but we’re really not comfortable with this.” The rest of the group split up: about ten people gathered on the accountability side, and nearly twice that over in support. After 15 minutes, they presented. Support went first, a narrator explaining three tableaus: a woman, standing, surrounded by others with hands on her shoulders. Another woman, falling but being caught by an equal number of hands. And a third woman, horizontal and held aloft by those around her. “The first one is solid in her walk with God and solid in the support around her. The second has fallen away, but her support system is catching her. The third has totally walked away from God, but she’s being supported totally back to Him.”

Then came accountability’s diorama: a woman fashioned from clay and a pipe-cleaner horse standing at a fork in the road, represented by popsicle sticks. “The rider is trying to pull the horse to the narrow path,” explained one man. “But the horse sees an easier path. The rider has to be able to communicate with the horse.” Another pointed out that the narrow road was labeled “friendship, camaraderie, being together, and singing together,” while the wide road was “isolation, despondence, television services — things that let you stay in bed all day and don’t grow you.”

Holmes asked for observations. “It’s harder to choose to go someplace where you’ll be accountable. That group was a lot smaller.” “You can’t have accountability without people to be supportive of you.” “You have to trust the people in your support group to be accountable to them.”

Finally, Holmes called the group to stand in a circle. “The Bible teaches that man and woman were created in the image of God. Look around at the image of God. Jesus...we ask that we would remember that we are your image bearers. We might be the only God that anyone ever sees. Help us reflect him well.”

What happens when we die?

“I think that’s determined by how we lived on earth,” said Holmes. “I would say that if we come to God on His terms, then we will spend eternity with Him. If we don’t, then we face the consequences of that.”

Evangelical Free Church of AmericaDenomination: Evangelical Free Church of America
Address: multiple campuses, reviewed service held at main campus, 1132 North Melrose Drive, Vista, 760-724-9819
Founded locally: 1976
Senior pastor: Dr. Larry Osborne
Congregation size: 6700
Staff size: over 150, including part-time
Sunday school enrollment: 1691
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to semiformal
Diversity: diverse — mostly Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian American
Sunday worship: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:50 a.m., 6 p.m. (main campus)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour
Website: northcoastchurch.com

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