Church for those who got burnt out or burned

Riverview Community Church meets in an old bar

Pastor Todd Tolson
  • Pastor Todd Tolson

Riverview Community Church

Riverview Community Church

8861 North Magnolia Avenue, Santee

  • Membership: 600
  • Pastor: Todd Tolson
  • Age: 40
  • Born: Waukegan, IL
  • Formation: Christian Heritage College, Santee (previously San Diego Christian, El Cajon)
  • Years Ordained: 16

San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?

Pastor Todd Tolson: I probably spend 10 to 12 hours a week preparing. Right now we’re in a series called “Jesus and the Griswolds,” loosely based on one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. We’re going through the family tree of Jesus in Matthew 1, and doing a character profile on each of the major characters in the family tree. The vast majority of people in Santee are either unchurched or de-churched, meaning they used to be super involved at one time but got burnt out or got burned, and haven’t attended church for decades.

SDR: What is Riverview doing to attract the “unchurched”?

PT: One of the things unique about Riverview is that we meet in an old bar. The bar is a landmark to the people in East County. We meet in what used to be Mulvaney’s Wagon Wheel, where I learned how to line-dance in high school. We have an old marquee sign out front which came with the building where we will put up a three-by-ten banner of whatever the teaching series is at the time. We’ll also put on the banner our service times and our motto — “We’re a church for people who don’t like church.” We get 25,000 cars a day that drive by the marquee and many people every weekend will come to Riverview for the first time because they saw the sign.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PT: We want to help other people know Jesus personally, to grow in biblical community, and to go and live generously. “Know, grow and go.” We try to keep it simple.

SDR: Where’s the strangest place you’ve found God?

PT: I was 19 and I was in a truck with a mentor of mine. We were driving across the Coronado bridge. He relayed to me that there had been a jumper on the bridge earlier that day. It was a strange experience, not being able to help. I had the symptoms of a panic attack — I had tunnel vision and I couldn’t breathe. It was the first time I had ever felt a holy fury over someone else’s life and their eternity. It’s one thing to lose your life. Everyone is going to die at some point — but losing out on eternity with God is another thing. I thought, Doesn’t that guy know — if he jumps…? Well, sign on the dotted line. You don’t come back from that. My mentor calmed me down by letting me know the guy didn’t actually jump. But it was a pivotal moment: I had a God experience in the middle of the Coronado bridge.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PT: Jesus described a geographic location of hell 14 different ways in the gospels, and he described heaven twice. That either means heaven is going to be so great that he wanted to keep it a surprise, or hell is so bad that he would describe it in excruciating detail in multiple ways to keep us from going there. Hell is eternal separation from God, but I think it’s more than that. It’s an actual location where people who do not surrender the leadership of their life over to Jesus go when they die.

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