Creatively engaging your missional community.
It was a warm, sunny, spring day with and a cool breeze. My wife Jenny and I stared out at the waves from the wood bench on the cliff overlooking Pleasure Point. We’d dreamt of starting a church for years, but we never really saw a place that we thought we could make a difference until now. I remember thinking “Who is reaching these people?” And for me, growing up surfing and skateboarding, these are my people.
For the 95% of the population who don’t attend church in Santa Cruz there’s a big disconnect. For most, church is totally off their radar. Many who are spiritual don’t see the need for a church community and for some it’s a huge turn off. What soon became clear to us was that the people we were meeting and befriending would never take part in the church model we were accustomed to. The models we’d been a part of until this point were all about putting on great events and programs so people would come to us. But we knew that if we were going to start a new church in Santa Cruz it would have to look different. Thankfully we have a great model. Through Jesus God is revealed as a missional God. He sent His Son to us. Out of love, He comes to us, meets us where we are at, and sends us out! It’s what the whole story of the Bible is all about. God’s inviting us to join Him on His mission to restore His creation to Himself.
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
– Jesus (John 20:21 NIV)
I believe engaging our community missionally must start with a relationship and a heart for people. That’s how it started for God. “For God so loved the world…” As we developed friendships and a love for our community, we began to have His heart for people. And then we were reminded of the gap. The gap is where the innovation comes in. Innovation is what bridges the gap. Before sharing our message we must build bridges of influence that can bear the weight of truth. So we asked God to show us keys to our community and we began to see with different eyes. Innovation allowed us to bridge the gap, build relationships, and earn the right to share our message.
We saw a lot of hungry surfers coming out of the water so we started bringing coffee and making pancakes on the beach. This later became part of our Sunday gatherings and we’ve since become known as the “pancake church.” We saw a lot of kids and teens riding skateboards so we started skating with them and helped build an indoor skatepark in the back of a skateboard shop. This is how we started “Santa Cruz Skate Church.”
As we were building a relationship with the local school where our church first started meeting, we saw a lot of families struggling with the high cost of rent. We met with the principle to see how we could come alongside and help them love families in our school. They asked if we could provide new shoes and sweatshirts for the children. Together we created and event called “Stoke Out” (surfer talk for “bless”). We partner with the school, other church communities, and local businesses. This year we “Stoked Out” over 500 families with new Vans shoes and sweatshirts for their children. This has opened up many doors for us to share the good news with both words and actions.
In our community we’re more known for Skate Church, the Stoke Out, and pancakes than just as “Hope Church”! And we’re more than happy about that because these are things that break the script of what people typically think about when they hear the word “church.”
We still need to take time to sit on the bench and dream of ways to reach this community we love. As we grow, we don’t want to forget our roots as a church. We are meant to be engaged missionally in our community. Now our focus is to help our people see themselves as the sent ones. God is still inviting us to join His mission to reach people who would never walk into the doors of a church. How will you go?
Danny Bennett pastors Hope Church in Santa Cruz, CA