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A New Kind of Local Church

Online Exclusive: How an Alliance congregation in Santa Ana, California, is reaching its city, county, and other countries

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Community Bible Church (Alliance) in Santa Ana, California, was being relaunched through Fresh Start Churches when I became its lead pastor in 2014. At the time, the congregation consisted of about 50 adults averaging 84 years of age. Most were residents at Town & Country Manor, an Alliance retirement center.

Today we are a multigenerational, multiethnic church with six worship services in three different languages, two church plants, and seven outreach ministries in our community.

When my wife, Joy, and I first arrived, the Lord gave us a vision for becoming an Acts 1:8 church to our city, our county, and other countries of the world.

We began to dream: What if our church could be a place where we love our city in practical ways, launch new churches to impact our county, and train and send leaders to reach other countries of the world—all at the same time?

Come and Rejoice

One Sunday morning a Cambodian pastor and his family visited our congregation. He shared his desire to find a bigger facility for his newly planted Alliance church and was wondering if we had some space he could rent. I shared with him a new paradigm to consider.

A New Kind of Local Church
Pastor Gary Tangeman baptizes a new believer.

“What if instead of renting space from us, your church became one of our congregations and you joined our staff as an associate pastor? You could share facilities and resources with us.” Thus began our journey into multicultural local church ministry.

We have since seen the Lord add a Spanish-speaking pastor and congregation to our church as well as a second-generation Hispanic, English-speaking congregation reaching young families with children.

We eventually changed the name of our church to better reflect our ministry’s mission and emphasis. After spending some time in Luke 15, looking at the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, I was impressed by the response of those who found what had been lost. Their message to their friends was, “Come and rejoice with me!”

As I meditated on those stories, the word celebration kept coming to mind. After sharing that word with our staff, and later with our congregation, we decided on the name Celebration Church. It describes the heart of what drives our ministry.

Because we believe our church exists for those who are not yet here, every week when a person meets Jesus through someone in our church, we light the “new birth candle” on our communion table.

Every Sunday people come into our worship center looking to see if the candle is lit. If it is, they know they will hear a conversion story, and when they do, spontaneous applause erupts, celebrating what God has done. It’s just one of the ways we try to keep the main thing, the main thing at Celebration Church.

Local Outreach

Not long after changing our name we began to reach beyond our four walls and love our city in a variety of ways.

Last summer we started reaching Hispanic families in a nearby community. We identified a parking lot used by city employees during the day that had become a playground for children at night. We thought, What if we set up a big screen and started showing family-friendly animated movies? Would people come?

After several well-attended family fun nights, we followed up with a harvest party on Halloween. More than 500 people from the community attended. “Who are you guys, and why are you doing this?” were common questions people began asking. We’ve used these outreach efforts to build positive relationships with our neighbors and will host an evening vacation Bible school in that same parking lot in July.

A New Kind of Local Church
Laundry Love is a ministry that pays for people to wash their clothes at local laundromats.

Other outreach ministries include Laundry Love. We visit local laundromats and pay for people to wash their clothes. It’s an easy way to engage folks in conversation while they wait for their load of laundry to dry.

We are also involved in food distributions to low-income Buddhist and Muslim Cambodian families. Once a month, we take our seniors on a bus to a local community college where they participate as English practice partners with new international students. As our seniors build relationships with these students, they invite them to the retirement center to visit. We also host international student dinners at our church.

During Christmas we participated with Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree, a ministry where local churches contact families with incarcerated loved ones and provide Christmas presents for their children. We were given a list of 350 families living within a three-mile radius of our church to contact. We invited them to come to our church to take pictures with Santa and to receive Christmas gifts. Seventy children and 30 adults made first-time decisions for Jesus Christ.

Church Planting

During this same time, the Lord has burdened our hearts with the spiritual darkness found in some of the neighboring cities and areas in our county. We now partner with two church plants. One reaching Disneyland employees is called CastMemberChurch.com, and another is aimed at young Asian professionals. The latter launched Easter Sunday and is currently meeting on our campus. Our goal is to help plant two new churches in our county each year.

A New Kind of Local Church
Justin and Kim Weaver planted a church among Disneyland employees called CastMemberChurch.com.

We partner with church planters in three different ways: (1) we provide assessment, training, and support for leaders God raises up through our church, (2) we adopt church planters who are looking to plant an Alliance church and need a sponsoring parent church, and (3) we assist planters who are looking to start a church with other denominations.

In this way we serve planters as a greenhouse church, making our facilities available to them without charge so they can develop their financial base and begin to grow their congregations before launching into neighboring cities.

World Missions

Our vision also extends to other countries of the world. One of those countries is Mexico where every month a team ministers to prisoners in local jails as well as those in recovery facilities.

We are also active in Cambodia. Twice a year our Cambodian pastor, Sonly Goy, visits the northern part of the country where the Lord has opened an amazing door of opportunity among the Cambodian military community.

A New Kind of Local Church
Celebration offers worship services in English, Spanish, and Cambodian.

In the fall of 2015 Sonly led to Christ and baptized a two-star general and his family. In the months that followed, a new church was planted in his village, and he has donated the land for a church building to house their growing congregation of 60–70 new believers.

During our most recent trip to Cambodia, 100 new believers were added to the Kingdom, and Alliance churches are now being formed in two new villages. Land has also been donated in each of these villages for new church buildings.

In addition to these ministries, this fall Celebration will become a training center for new Alliance missionary candidates. Due to the many ethnic groups living in Southern California, missionary interns have a wonderful opportunity to gain firsthand experience ministering to people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. We are now making plans to launch later this year a school of ministry for training missionaries and other emerging ministry leaders.

Our prayer is that in the years to come Celebration Church will serve as a catalyst for a new kind of local church model. One that is both multicultural and Kingdom focused, that looks to partner with other Great Commission–driven ministries to impact our world for Jesus Christ.

What’s important is not the size of the church but the size of the vision. A church may be small, but its impact for the Kingdom can be huge.

1 response to A New Kind of Local Church

  1. I love the heart, vision and continually expanding ministry of Gary & Joy, their team, and Celebration Church! You are a true Greenhouse to leaders and a great example to us all. Keep up the great work!

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