When the band started at Eastlake Community Church's 11:30 a.m. upper campus service, Pastor Ben Sigman was not in the building. He was still down the hill at the church's more churchlike lower campus, finishing up the 10:30 service. And by the time Sigman did take the stage, the band was setting up down the hill for the 12:30. The see-saw back-and-forth started at 8:30 that morning -- the two Saturday-afternoon services were both held up top, in the big room inside the converted Kaiser Permanente facility. It's how Eastlake accommodates the crowds. The band caught the flavor of the church -- varied in race (an African-American drummer), in age (three youngish backup singers, three middle-aged guitarists, a Gen-Xer on lead vocals), and in gender (gals on vocals and keyboards), but all blending to produce a polished Christian-pop sound. (When people ask Pastor Sigman, "Why don't we go back to the traditional music?" he responds, "How far back do you want to go? Back to the 1st Century? God uses all kinds of churches with all kinds of music. We have a certain style that tends to work in our community.")
Pastor James Grogan -- young, square-jawed, dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and sport coat -- took the stage after the band. "One of the ways we affirm that we believe in Jesus besides singing about it," he began, "is by taking communion. You should find your communion elements underneath your seat" -- and there they were, in an ingenious single-serving combo-pack of wafer and grape juice. "We serve what we call 'open communion.' You don't have to have gone to a certain class or be a member.... If you are here and you would consider yourself a believer in Jesus, then we invite you to participate."
Before we ate and drank, Grogan reminded us of Paul's exhortation that we examine our hearts before receiving. "If you need to confess some things, you can do that at this time." A guitar strummed quietly into the silence as Grogan bowed his head.
Sigman's sermon concluded Eastlake's series entitled "10 Things I Hate About Church" -- the look of the logo on the handout matched that of the recent film 10 Things I Hate About You . The final hated thing: "Church is all about guilt, rules, and money." At the opening, the screen showed a clip from The Simpsons -- Pastor Lovejoy preaching against a "so-called 'new religion,'" which was "nothing but a pack of weird rituals and chants designed to take the money of fools." Then he asked his flock to "say the Lord's Prayer 40 times -- but first, let's pass the collection plate!" The congregation laughed.
Sigman thought this particular charge against church was "more of a caricature than a characterization," but he still thought it worth refuting. First, guilt. "Church is about grace, not guilt." Salvation, according to Ephesians, "is a gift that God gives us." He granted that "real guilt" exists, but cited Second Corinthians: "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." Sigman recalled that John Newton, who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," said near the end of his life, "My memory is nearly gone, but I can remember two things -- that I am a great sinner, and that I have a great Savior.'"
Second, rules: "Oftentimes, we think, 'If I have the right list of rules, then everything will be okay.' The Bible makes it clear that it's not about rules -- it's about a relationship with God. That's where it begins. Does that mean there are no rules? Let me ask you a question: does that work in relationships? There are going to be boundaries...but the primary thing is the relationship.' Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.' We spend the rest of our lives trying to unpack that spiritual reality, but let's never forget that it's about that relationship."
Third, money: "The church is about ministry, not money." The recent building campaign "wasn't because it's all about money and buildings. It was because people had a heart for their friends."
So -- if not guilt, rules, and money, what drives Eastlake Church? Sigman laid out five answers: A heart for broken people, a dislike for dumb church stuff (committees, wrangling over music and the placement of the cross within the church), a commitment to your right next step, a desire to experience God's joy, and a passion for changed lives.
What happens when we die?
"I believe that people are created to exist forever," says Sigman. "We will either exist eternally with God through forgiveness and salvation or eternally separated from God by sin. To be eternally in union with Him is eternal life. To be eternally separated from God is hell. I believe that heaven and hell are real places of eternal existence."
990 Lane Avenue, Chula Vista
- Denomination: Missionary Church
- Founded locally: 1999
- Senior pastor: Michael Meeks
- Congregation size: 3500
- Staff size: 33
- Sunday school enrollment: 1000 of the congregation are high school age or younger -- age-appropriate worship programs provided
- Annual budget: n/a
- Weekly giving: n/a
- Singles program: no
- Dress: casual
- Diversity: very diverse, a mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American
- Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m. (lower campus), 9:30 a.m. (upper campus), 10:30 a.m. (lower campus), 11:30 a.m. (upper campus), 12:30 p.m. (lower campus), 10:30 a.m. Revolution service for high-school age students (upper campus)
- Length of reviewed service: 1 hour
- Website: eastlakechurch.com