San Diego Denomination: nondenominational
Address: Dave & Buster's, 2931 Camino Del Rio North, Mission Valley
Founded locally: January 2004
Senior pastor: Chad Furlong
Congregation size: 140
Staff size: two, plus two volunteers
Sunday school enrollment: TK
Annual budget: around $140,000
Weekly giving: $1500
Singles program: TK
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, a few Asians and Hispanics.
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Inside the restaurant/bar/video game emporium that is Dave & Buster's, the synth-pop pounded into the Sunday-morning calm, warring with the electronic din from the games. But inside the establishment's showroom, the music was folkier and unguardedly Christian. Floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains muffled the sounds outside. Most people sat at tables, chatting; some took a place in the few rows of chairs. The church's band took the stage -- two acoustic guitars, drums, electric bass, and three vocalists, including Tabitha, about to leave for music school in Australia. "If you've never been here before," said Tabitha, "we just want to thank you for being here. We're going to sing a few songs. If you know the words and you'd like to sing along, go ahead. If not, then just sit and think...or chat with someone."
The second song was "Amazing Grace," but not your grandmother's "Amazing Grace," or even your mother's. The old melody had been replaced; the familiar, "was blind but now I see" was augmented by "so clearly," and a chorus of sorts has been added: "hallelujah/grace like rain falls down on me/all my stains are washed away."
After a brief welcome video ("We hope you'll feel loved here"), Pastor Mat Miller warmed up the crowd while he rattled off the announcements. Newcomers were encouraged to fill out an information card. "We're not going to show up at your house with a basket of food...but we do want to keep you informed." A couple had just had a baby. "Let's keep them in our prayers." Then, an upcoming event: "Every church, in order to be a church -- it's like in a law book -- you have to have potlucks every once in a while. And someone's going to bring meatballs." Laughter. "We're going to chill and relax at the Escala clubhouse. There's room for 200 people, so bring your friends."
When it came time to remind folks about putting donations in the canisters at the center of each table, Miller said, "It helps to keep the lights on. And we're growing. We're looking at buying this building...when I win the Lotto. I'm going to live on that side" -- he pointed to the games section outside the doors -- "and we'll still have church in here. I'll play video games all day and all night. It'll be fantastic." The crowd laughed in appreciation. Then Miller introduced a short video profile, "Cribs-style," of a couple of church members, Sean and Jodi. "I would say that Sean's favorite hobby is beer tasting," said Jodie during the profile. More laughter.
Pastor Chad Furlong took the stage and gave the teaching, entitled "A Better Me: Spirituality." "I've been on a journey over the last five years," he said, "where I found religion to be kind of unattractive. I just wasn't into it. But Jesus I find very, very attractive. The more I investigate Him, the more I find He is very intriguing. He was a very intelligent man; He rose above most of His society."
Furlong read the Gospel story in which Jesus called fishermen to be his disciples. He noted the education and intelligence traditionally required of those who wanted to follow a rabbi and marveled that Jesus called "the unqualified. A lot of times, I feel unqualified, but He looks past all our faults. He looks right to where you are and He chooses me and He chooses you.... I don't necessarily think I can follow religion all the time, but I can follow Jesus." When Peter saw Jesus walking on water, "he yelled out, 'Can I come to you?' He was taught that you were to emulate the rabbi. I want to challenge you to copy this rabbi Jesus."
At the end of the teaching, Furlong said that, if people had questions or wanted someone to pray with them, there would be people available after the service. But, "one thing we refuse to be here at San Diego Church is pushy. We want you to journey toward God at your own pace. Some of you, it may take years. Some of you may never come to the conclusion of following Christ. But it's your call." Then he thanked God for who He was and for all He'd done "since that day when I decided to start copying my rabbi, that day when I decided to take on your yoke, your perspective on the world" -- the two hallmarks of discipleship.
The band returned to the stage. After the last song, Tabitha offered a prayer, her voice thick with emotion. "...I just pray huge, huge blessings on this place and on these people. God, I thank you for being here with us today...Jesus, I just pray that you would answer any questions...God, that you would stir in people, God, a desire to know You more. We just love You so much. In Your name..."
What happens when we die?
"When a person dies," says Furlong, "there is a judgment, and it is at the discretion of God's justice as to what happens from there -- whether they're with Him or separate from Him. I don't limit God's grace and say, 'So-and-so is going to be separated from Him for eternity because he never heard of Jesus.' I rely on the fact that God is just and He does what's right. But then, at the same time, creation speaks of Him. I believe there's a road map to God through things like creation. I believe people can take a journey toward Him, and then He does what He does."