When people outside of Southern California think of Southern California, weather and scenery come to mind first. No one can quarrel with the America's best weather and it's most breathtaking scenery. However, Christianity doesn't always come to mind, despite California's many great churches. Some you've heard of – Saddleback, Mosaic, Calvary Chapel, Shepherd of the Hills, the Crystal Cathedral, etc., but some of its best churches you'll never hear of. They are small, but powerful. You know the names Rick Warren, Erwin McManus, John Ortberg, and others who serve in California but many other devoted and talented servants of Christ in California will never be known beyond their local congregation. This is also true of those who serve in SoCal Churches of Christ. There are a few ministers in California that are known widely among Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, but not many. This doesn't mean that California is lacking in either devotion to Christ or talent that can be catalyzed for the Cause. God has a long history of working out here in SoCal…and among SoCal Churches of Christ.
I grew up in Churches of Christ in Southern California during their golden age. Youth Ministry was really strong—virtually everywhere in those days. The area's natural resources provide a ton of fun things for youth ministers to do for free. Preachers like Jeff Walling, Randy Mayeux and others were preaching out here like there may not be a tomorrow. It was a great time to grow up in Churches of Christ. However, the 1990's and the first decade of the 2000's haven't been kind to the Churches of Christ out here. Very few have avoided decline. Even fewer have grown. There are many reason for this…many of them I've talked about in either the Turnaround Church or Turnaround Fellowship posts over the last several months.
I recently gathered with a new group of ministers within Churches of Christ who refer to themselves as the Southern California Minister's Group (SCMG). It was a gathering of 50+ preachers and youth ministers various ages, geographies, ethnicities, and contexts. 8 counties of Southern California were represented. In those 8 Southern California counties, there are 292 Churches of Christ. Yep, that number's right. 292.
Those 292 Churches of Christ are trying to reach a population of 21 million people represented just in those 8 counties. The little army of 50+ gathered at the Embassy Suites in El Segundo was ready to talk about how to tackle the task.
My man, Fate Hagood from Metropolitan Church of Christ in Carson, gave us a charge with his typical spiritual authority. Here's how he opened his charge to us:
"There is a newness in the air in Southern California. A refreshing spirit of revival seems to be flowing through the church. This is different from the exciting manifestations at Cane Ridge Revival in 1804 which served as the seminal event for the launch of what later would be called the Restoration Movement or even the vibrancy of the 50's and 60's evangelistic expansions in which the Churches of Christ were commonly called the fastest growing religious body in America…
This present movement of God is not as explosive as those awesome times yet, but there is a promise of some great things reasserting itself into our common psyche and a powerful hope re-emerging in our eyes. It is like the whispered invitation into a clandestine meeting of amorous intent or the first winking emergence of the sun as it rises in the East's horizon. It's the same anticipation one feels when awakened in the morning by the smell of Farmer John bacon. Though you can't see it, the smell creates an anticipation of delight that motivates forward motion."
When he got to Farmer John bacon, I was ready to run through a wall! I love me some Church, and love me some Farmer John bacon 🙂
Evertt Huffard was also gracious enough to join us all the way from Memphis. He encouraged us immensely with some typically amazing thoughts…and we were done. Thanks to Jon Reed, Scott Lambert, Joe Burns, and others for getting the 50+ of us together.
I've been to some gatherings like this before both here and in Dallas. There's lots of "rah, rah, sis boom bah," and then…nothing.
But, here's my take on this gathering:
This may in fact be, "the whispered invitation into a clandestine meeting of amorous intent," Fate spoke of. I believe there is finally real potential and movement to change at this moment in time. I think people may just be fed up enough, passionate enough and urgent enough to go through the painful work of death, rebirth and change. I can see it in the eyes of the preachers and youth ministers…and revival almost always starts with leaders.
Over the next 10 years, I believe God is going to do some amazing refurbishment and revitalization of the churches in Southern California.There's a lot of talent, and right now, there seems to be a lot of surrender. That will be a joy to see. Southern Californians are laid back, fun, creative, and yes, spiritual people. Southern California churches used to reflect clearly God's movement in the lives of such people. Some do, and others can again. I can't wait to see how God's going to bring this all together. Can anything good come out of Southern California? It must. I believe, by God's power, it will.
Question: Are there other areas of the country where you sense God bringing renewal?