It's an experiment worth noting: a traditional Southern Baptist church in a Los Angeles suburb is down to less than 50 members, a large portion of them in their 70's. The worship is traditional, including responsive reading and traditional hymns.
A few miles away, the bud of a new church is ripe for planting. This new church — aimed at the heart of Generation X — worships with guitars, encourages a casual atmosphere while still emphasizing repentance before God.
Rather than working against each other, these two congregations — in a startling unselfish and intimate way — chose to work together. First Baptist Church of Granada Hills, with Pastor Bruce Swetnam, continues to meet at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings, as it always has, and continues to offer a Sunday school before the church service.
Yet, Granada Hills, voting unanimously, has invited the Harvest Church of the Valley, a Southern Baptist church plant, to use their facilities as they struggle to stand as a church to the next generation. Harvest Church, with Pastor Rob Myers, meets at 9:15 a.m., and offers home cell groups as opposed to Sunday school classes. Myers' office in the church is a converted Sunday school room, and the two congregations share the other facilities, rarely, but occasionally, intermingling with each other.
The plan is for Harvest Church to enfold the older church into herself as she grows to the point of maturity. Rather than 10 years from now having no Baptist church in the community, the hope is for a vital, growing congregation.
"My personal feeling is not to worry about who might have a few more people or what might prove to be a more successful method of reaching people for the Kingdom," says Granada Hills Pastor Bruce Swetnam. "My desire is to reach them using whatever means necessary. This approach is born out of the desire to maximize the use of our facilities to reach those people."
Harvest Church Pastor Rob Myers is grateful to have help from Granada Hills. An experienced church planter, he says two difficulties to overcome are the financial burden and core families to help start the church. Using Granada Hills' facilities solves the financial problems, and Myers and his wife, Estelle, have been leading home cell groups for several months, developing the core membership support Harvest Church will need to survive.
"Some Southern Baptist churches try a mix of contemporary and traditional, but very few are focused entirely upon a contemporary approach," notes Myers, acknowledging the influence of Saddleback and Rick Warren on his own style. "We've even asked some older people to come to our church, not because they'll like the contemporary worship style, but to give themselves in ministry to their children and grandchildren."
And how is Harvest Church doing at reaching young people. Heddy Firozkar, just past her teens, says she visited several churches and knew she wouldn't be able to bring her friends to them. Yet, in non-traditional Sunday morning shorts, Firozkar brought 3 friends to church this Sunday — a radical shift for someone who was president of the Atheist Club at Granada Hills High School just a few years ago.
"This valley doesn't need another church that just preaches 'peace and love,'" says Firozkar. "It needs a church that preaches repentance, and Harvest Church does that. We are accountable to each other, yet we're casual and open. We don't have to fake it and pretend nothing's wrong in our life."
Andy Viera, director of missions for the San Fernando Valley Baptist Association, says, "We do this all the time with ethnic groups, where you pancake congregations into a facility, and have Koreans, Hispanics, Asians or Filipinos meeting at separate times during the day. Why not try the same thing with two English-speaking congregations?"
"It's proving that the church is not the building — the people are the church," Viera adds. "You can have a variety of congregations worshipping under the same roof."