“Service?” asked the smiling man at the entrance to the AMC Theatres in the Otay Ranch Town Center. I was a little surprised — it’s 10 in the morning — but he had reason to ask: already, folks were lining up to buy tickets for the early shows of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
Inside, I was greeted by pastor Chris Hornbrook, dressed in shorts and a black T-shirt printed with white letters: jointhemomentum.org. “Our mission is to help people find their way back to God,” he told me. “We try to keep things really simple — loving God passionately and loving people genuinely.” Keeping it simple kept it moving. “We love to give money away to other churches, so that they can reach other people for the sake of Jesus,” said family pastor Chase Lyday during the service. (Though still working to establish its own financial stability, Momentum has already contributed to the start of churches in San Francisco and the Dominican Republic.)
Momentum made good use of its cinematic space, running three videos of decent length over the course of the service: an opening in which preacher Steve Harvey introduced Jesus Christ as a sort of star performer (“His credits are too long to list; He has done the impossible time after time...”); a closing salute to soldiers for Memorial Day (“They gave up their freedom to protect ours...”); and a testimonial to introduce the theme of “It’s Personal.”
“My story of being a son begins with being a dad,” explained Scott Alka before going on to narrate his story of drug-and-alcohol abuse and the discovery that two of his children were autistic. “I found myself at home, on my knees, asking Him to be my savior. I prayed, ‘God, if You are real, and if this grace thing is true, please forgive me and extend Your grace to me because I desperately need You.’ I immediately felt a sense of peace and assurance.... That was the moment when it became personal to me.”
“Adults, typically, do not become followers of Jesus because they get answers to all their questions about God,” said Hornbrook in the sermon that followed. “They become followers of Jesus when something happens, when Christ pops up in their life and it becomes personal.... It’s not that the questions go away; it’s that they shrink down, and they say, ‘God, I don’t understand everything about You, but I trust You and I’ll follow You.’ It’s okay to have all these questions, but there are two better questions: ‘Who is Jesus of Nazareth?’ and ‘What happened 2000 years ago?’ When you seek the answers to those questions, it becomes very personal.”
To illustrate, he told the story of Saul, a zealous Jew who persecuted Christians until Christ knocked him off his horse and asked him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” “On that day,” said Hornbrook, “it became very personal for Saul.” Saul went on to become Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles.
This was keeping it simple — keeping it about love and about spreading the good news. A fair amount of Hornbrook’s sermon was pitched to people who were not quite believers. “Maybe you’ve been a critic; maybe you’ve been the one saying, ‘I can’t believe in God because of this and this and this.’ But on the inside, there’s a battle going on...that inner battle is between you and Jesus.... It’s, like, Oh, how He loves us, you know? If you’re a parent, you know that love.... I just can’t wait for the day when my daughter looks back at me and says, ‘I love you too, Daddy.’ I wonder if God is speaking that same thing into your heart this morning.”
But it wasn’t all simplicity and love and trusting God. Even before we got to the symbolism and meaning of the Communion service, there was the business of “repent and be baptized.” “All ‘repent’ is, really, is doing a U-turn from living for yourself to living for God.” And baptism? “Then He says, ‘You need to die to your old self and be raised up a new creation.’ This is the marker; this is the beginning of your full passion and pursuit of God. If you’ve never taken those steps, maybe today is your day.... A couple of people are going to be baptized after the service. Go home and get your bathing suit. Meet us at Mike and Beth’s.”
What happens when we die?
“To be honest with you,” said Hornbrook, “I’m still sorting through all the Scriptures myself. That’s the thing about our church — we’re just people on a journey. The bottom line is, we will be with our Father — as a family.” — Matthew Lickona
Address: AMC Theatres at Otay Ranch, 2015 Birch Street, Chula Vista, 619-417-5789
Founded: October 2008
Senior pastor: Chris Hornbrook
Congregation size: 120
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 35–40
Annual budget: still being established
Weekly giving: around $13,000
Singles program: not yet
Dress: mostly casual, some semiformal
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes