"Fifty percent of all people who attend church don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many don't even know they don't have a relationship with Jesus," said Pastor Jeff Brawner from Bonita Valley Community Church (BVCC). "My job is to start with people where they are at and lead them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not a seeker-sensitive church but a seeker-aware church. I know there is some debate over who the church is trying to reach. But I believe church is both for nonbelievers and believers. If a church does too much for nonbelievers, people assume believers won't grow. I believe we can do both." BVCC's Saturday- evening service began with songs led by a 10-person band and 56-person choir. The gospel-style choir swayed in unison and clapped hands as they sang. Most of the choir wore shades of purple that matched the purple and lavender sanctuary. As the final song ended, Pastor Brawner walked up to the stage and led the congregation a cappella in a song. After the song, Brawner began his sermon based on the book of Jonah. "This book is about the directions of our lives. It's a power struggle between Jonah and God. How many of us have had power struggles?" asked Brawner. "For example, a power struggle at home -- who is going to rule the house?" The congregation followed the message with a fill-in-the-blank outline. The first line read, "Like Jonah, We Sometimes Run _ God!" As Pastor Brawner spoke, two large PowerPoint screens presented "from" as the correct answer.
In the 35-minute sermon, Pastor Brawner included jokes, humorous stories, a fairy tale, and a comment about the Chargers. At one point Brawner said, "The Apostle Paul was a golfer. You can tell this because Paul said, 'That which I want to do, I don't do. That which I don't want to do, I do.' A joke that referenced Romans 7:15. The simple sermon made five points and concluded with, "Like Jonah, We Are Invited To Run God!" The congregation wrote in "with" as the final point.
At the Saturday-evening service, the Jehovah's Java Courtyard Café is closed. "On Sundays we have donuts, coffee, and juice," said Pastor Jack Houston. I asked Pastor Houston if the entire book of Jonah should be preached in one night. "[Brawner] is more interested in relating the Bible to our everyday life," said Houston. "Our Wednesday-night study is more of a Bible study. Everyone comes on Wednesday and divides into different studies and groups." Pastor Houston said that each pastor at BVCC is responsible for an age group. BVCC plans to hire a "Gen-X" pastor for 20-year-olds. I asked Houston why the church segregates into groups based on age. "We don't really have a philosophy of ministry for this. It's just a practical way we can minister to the people. We try to have something for everyone here."
On the back of BVCC's bulletin, the church offers 52 different events, small groups, and classes throughout the week. No men's groups were listed among the many women's and children's groups. I asked Houston his view of the roles of husbands and wives. "I'm the head of the household, but my wife has great wisdom, so I learn from her," said Pastor Houston. Houston told me the church offers a compatibility class for people who plan to marry.
Walter and Laura joined BVCC from a church plant. I asked the couple about their views of headship and submission. "She's already submitted to me," Walter said as he spoke in a deep voice with a smile. Walter and Laura laughed at the comment. "I submit to the Lord and my husband as my husband submits to the Lord," responded Laura.
"[In marriage] the Bible teaches that we all have roles," said Pastor Jeff Brawner. "These roles are not a reflection of our value. A general is not more valuable to God than a private. They are just in different roles, like a dad and a mom are different. To deny their differences is just silly. In Genesis, we see that after the Fall, man will try to rule over the woman and the woman will try to take the authority from man. People think, if I can try to reject what is right and wrong, I can do whatever I want. To reject the roles is wrong and is trying to become the god of your own life."
Pastor Houston recommended I return on a Sunday. "On Sunday, our choir is 70-plus people," said Houston. "We have people in the band that used to tour with Lionel Ritchie. The music is hot. The band is hot," remarked Pastor Brawner.
I asked Pastor Brawner what he believed happened to a person after they died. "After death is the great awakening," Brawner replied. "You'll be more awake than you've ever been. Some people will be with God; others will be separated from God. I believe there is a real heaven and hell."
Denomination: Assemblies of God
Founded locally: 1950
Senior pastor: Jeff Brawner
Congregation size: 2000
Staff size: 24
Sunday school enrollment: 400
Annual budget: a couple million
Weekly giving: don't give this out to public
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to business casual
Sunday worship: Sunday, 8:30, 9:45, 11:30 a.m.; Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour