Meeting Christ at the beach, a skateboard facility, a coffee shop, or over breakfast challenges traditional ideas of “church.” Yet a trio of unconventional Foursquare congregations shows the feasibility of going into all the world to make disciples.
When former youth pastors Daniel “Danny” and Jennifer Bennett moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., three years ago, they didn’t follow the tradition of bringing along a core group. The eclectic individualists in the surfing-oriented area wouldn’t have greeted “outsiders” too warmly.
Instead, the Bennetts sensed God’s leading that He would assemble a core team. During the next 16 months, He did. And on Easter 2011, more than 100 people attended the launch of Santa Cruz Hope Foursquare Church.
Meeting at an elementary school, the congregation is marked by casual dress, energetic worship and the presence of many young adults. Their Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, beach gatherings and Wednesday night “skate church” also make them unique from more traditional congregations.
The latter offers a safe place for kids to skate, eat pizza and learn about God. By building ramps in the backroom of a skateboard shop, the northern California church helped launch what became the county’s only non-profit indoor skate park. The owners of Grind Out Hunger, as it is known, dedicate net proceeds to raising awareness of hunger and feeding children in need.
“We didn’t want to compete with other churches,” says Danny, who moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area. “We found a place where nobody was reaching people.”
That place is on the east side of Santa Cruz, located in the heart of a county where fewer than 5 percent of the 265,000 residents claim a church affiliation. It takes patience to build relationships in an environment where few people attend church regularly. Yet many are responding, and many others are joining them on a quest to become followers of Christ.
If there is a lesson others can take away from Santa Cruz Hope Foursquare Church, Danny says it isn’t about numbers or “success” in ministry, but the reality that Jesus is still drawing people to Himself.
“I want to encourage people to take risks and reach out, no matter where they live,” he says. “The ministry that has taken place here is miraculous. It has come out of the heart that God put in us for those who don’t know Him—but need to.”
Doing Something Different
Those are the kind of people Timothy and Margie Franklin sought to reach when they shifted the focus of the church they were leading in Texas City, Texas, about 50 minutes south of downtown Houston.
“We felt God was saying, ‘Do something completely different,’ ” says Timothy, co-pastor with Margie of The Connection (Texas City Foursquare Church). A coffee shop Monday through Friday, the 70-seat café hosts worship services on Sunday.
To make the shift from a traditional church setting, the congregation remodeled their quarters in a shopping center. That meant adding custom cabinets, granite countertops, an espresso machine and other equipment. Last December, The Connection opened its doors.
“We didn’t want to be a place where people walked in the door and said, ‘This is a bunch of Christians,’ ” says Timothy, a longtime Foursquare pastor. “There’s a VA [Veterans Administration] clinic two doors down; veterans and their spouses come in to tell us about their problems. It’s nice to serve drinks, but what’s [really] nice is caring for people who come through that door.”
After an initial decline in attendance, the congregation has rebounded to around 50. Thus far, the church has seen four new families join and four newcomers baptized. The Connection maintains a missions emphasis, with several young adults joining an 11-member team that visited Bulgaria in August.
Ninety percent of the prayer requests they field come from non-Christians. They include a Muslim woman who has confided in Margie and discussed Scripture with her. When she experienced a medical emergency, she insisted on calling The Connection, telling her family that they knew how to pray.
“She hasn’t accepted Christ yet, but we believe that day is coming,” Timothy says. “We’re pretty excited about what’s happening here.”
A Heart for People
A heart for their community also drives the couple who formed Reno South Foursquare Church in Reno, Nev., a house church that meets Thursday evenings at the home of Ben and Jessica Locke.
Between 10 and 15 people attend dinner and Bible study, and up to twice as many come to their monthly Sunday morning breakfast. The Lockes intentionally form relationships with non-Christians in the community. Ben works in sales for a backstage pass company, and both he and his wife coach youth soccer.
Jessica took a break in late October to give birth to their fourth child but plans to resume coaching in the spring. She is also an avid blogger and receives nearly 20,000 views a month of her blog on mothering.
Their church also reaches into the community through frequenting a donut shop and building relationships with the staff, and by providing assistance to a local elementary school.
Soon after moving into their neighborhood in summer 2012, the Lockes (not mentioning their church ties) contacted the school to see if they could help meet needs there. In addition to providing students with school supplies, they assembled spring break food packages for 36 of the school’s homeless children.
While the future of the church isn’t clear, the couple prefers to see Reno South Foursquare Church remain a home-based initiative.
“We don’t know what it will look like once it outgrows our house,” says Jessica, “but we’d like to see people we’ve discipled start meeting with others, as well.”
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance writer in Huntington, W.Va.