Although it has been more than 30 years since Jeff Fischer made the transition from young surfer to church leader, the senior pastor retains the same passion to reach young people he had in his 20s.
The results of his ministry passion are evident in the faces at Hope Chapel (Canoga Park Foursquare Church) in Winnetka, Calif., just northwest of Los Angeles—half the church is teenagers or young adults. Young leaders play key roles in the worship band, church council and “mini-churches,” the 13 home groups of between four and 20 people that meet throughout the week.
In addition, Hope Chapel sponsors Revolution, a series of major evangelistic and compassion/justice concerts and neighborhood outreaches. Last year, the latter resulted in 450 decisions for Christ and a church plant in Missouri.
“I want to be a 2 Tim. 2:2 guy,” says Jeff, who at 53 is the father of a 5-year-old son. “I have the desire to be fruitful and not the kind of leader who forgets that the most important thing is to hand off the baton to the next generation. That’s what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, to train younger leaders.”
Jeff’s congregation grew out of a home Bible study he helped form after accepting Christ. His testimony includes a broken home, surfing and drug abuse. A collapsed lung at the age of 21 and a fear of dying drove him deeper into alcohol and drugs, until he picked up the Bible an aunt had given him as a youngster.
That led to a spiritual search that culminated in an invitation from a high school friend to attend a home Bible study. At the study, he heard the testimony of a young musician who had been a guest on The Tonight Show. Unable to refuse God any longer, Jeff prayed to receive Christ.
“It was not a casual experience,” the pastor recalls. “All my confusion, fear and guilt were displaced by an incredible sense of freedom, joy and peace. I felt clean, happy and hopeful for the first time.”
Jeff believes his background and the church’s reputation for sponsoring Revolution events have created common ground with young people. Many relate to Hope Chapel’s casual dress and contemporary music.
Since 2006, Revolution has sponsored two major music festivals featuring top music groups. However, its primary thrust is neighborhood outreaches ranging from pancake breakfasts to toy and clothing giveaways, which attract crowds of up to 600.
The pastor is affiliated with Foursquare’s Emerging Leader Network (ELN) and believes in starting other churches. Besides the eight his church has planted through the years, another 22 are spin-offs of those congregations.
Jeff says letting young people serve in leadership roles, including in weekly worship instead of segregating them in a separate group, is one way he tries to relax the reins of power.
“We let young people serve, share and pray,” Jeff explains. “We involve them as much as possible. We have small groups that are just youth, but when it comes to the corporate life of the church, they’re with us.”
Despite the passage of time, Jeff doesn’t see vast differences between his search for meaning in the early 1980s and today. He sees many young adults who are aware of their inner emptiness and need for meaning and significance. However, he says, they struggle with heavier issues than he did in his 20s. Among them are moral relativism that treats all beliefs as equal and the drawbacks of the Internet, which Jeff labels a “technological vortex of perversion.”
“Sin is tougher to define because it’s so tolerated in terms of sexual sin,” Jeff states. “It’s the biggest issue. A lot of kids aren’t talking about it, especially to church leaders. Yet I think that it is twisting the hearts, minds and souls of young people in more profound ways than ever.”
Such challenges mean those seeking to reach the younger generation need to stand firm despite setbacks—something Jeff has learned from experience. He went through a divorce in 2002, and a church split saw attendance dwindle by more than two-thirds before it started to rebuild.
Feeling like a failure, Jeff tried to resign three times. But the support of key leaders and an investigation by a Foursquare ethics committee—which found justification for him to continue in ministry—kept him in the pulpit.
“My personal story has to do with failure,” says the father of three. “But you’re not a failure until you give up. Don’t give up; don’t listen to your critics. Pray a lot, cry a lot, and keep going.”