Feature

Church Beyond the Walls

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When the membership of Community Bible Church in Santa Ana, California, dwindled to about 50 adults averaging 84 years of age, South Pacific Alliance District Superintendent Bill Malick knew it was time for a Fresh Start (freshstartchurches.org). After negotiating with the elders to hand the nonagenarian church over to the district, Bill appointed Gary Tangeman as pastor in 2014 with the instructions to develop the church into a multigenerational and multiethnic congregation.

Today, with a new name, Celebration Church is diverse in both age and cultures. The fellowship of about 225 people has five worship services in three different languages, two local church plants, three international church plants, and seven community outreach ministries.

When Gary and his wife, Joy, first stepped into their new role, the Lord gave them a vision for becoming an Acts 1:8 church to their city, county, and other countries of the world. Here’s how they’re doing just that:

Alliance Life: What have been some key components for your Acts 1:8 vision to come to fruition?

Gary Tangeman: First, we had something most people may not always have: money. Since the church had sold its property and parsonage in 1989 and moved to Town & Country Manor, an Alliance retirement center, the church had some money that had been earning interest for 25 years. So, when we came, we put in computers, television screens, and a sound booth. We took the carpet out and put in new flooring. The Lord allowed us to have some resources to immediately invest so we could bring the church up to the era in which we’re living. That was a real blessing.

Then, six months after we were there, I noticed an Asian family sitting in the service. The gentleman approached me afterward, and his name is Sonly Goy. He is a former district superintendent for the C&MA’s Cambodian District.

Sonly had finished his term and started a new church in a garage. They outgrew the garage, so he asked me, “Could we rent from you guys since we’re all Alliance?”

I shared a new paradigm with him: “Instead of you just renting from us and being on your own as a lot of churches do, why don’t you come and join us? Everything we have will be yours, and you can become an associate pastor and lead your own service, but we’ll work together.”

Did he like that idea?

He loved the idea! He went back and talked to his people, and they loved the idea. In less than a year, we had our Cambodian congregation.

Did anyone from Celebration Church resist the notion?

No. They were totally fine with that because one of the provisions that Bill Malick had made clear to me—and I agreed with him—is he said, “When you come and bring change and innovation, we want you to always provide a service that will honor the older people.”

We have kept their service as it was, which means piano, organ, and hymns on Sunday morning. I stand behind the pulpit, and I wear a tie. I do everything to help accommodate the worship that’s meaningful to them. They absolutely love it, and then they give the permission and blessing for us to launch out and do all these other things.

What happened next?

The next thing was a vision to start a Spanish service. I hired a guy who is bi-vocational to pastor part time. Then we started another service on Sunday mornings for younger Hispanic families who speak English.

I brought to this setting a Kingdom mindset which said, “How can we advance the Kingdom? It doesn’t have to necessarily build our church. It doesn’t have to necessarily build our denomination. But how do we build the Kingdom?”

Because I was open to that, the Lord brought in some resources and opportunities that I don’t think would have normally been there. Today, we have eight services going on weekends. Five services are ours, and three services are other churches renting our facility.

I tell them, “We’re as concerned about your service succeeding as we are about our own.” Most people have never heard anything like that before. Again, it’s having a Kingdom mindset that if we can impact more people through what they’re doing, we want to help them become all that God wants them to be.

How do the different congregations minister together?

The groups do different things. For example, the Cambodians take food to an area where there’s a Cambodian community. They go to a food bank. Our pastor loads up his truck with food and takes it out there. Then he sets up tables and chairs, and people have the chance to fellowship.

We’ve had two converts come to the Lord through that outreach. We baptized them, and they’re now in Sonly’s congregation.

What’s another example of your outreach ministries?

One is called Laundry Love. We go for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon to two laundromats once a month. We take rolls of quarters, and we pay for people to wash their laundry. We don’t touch their clothes, but we put in the quarters.

The genius of the whole thing is while their laundry is being done, they’re not going anywhere. It’s a perfect opportunity to say, “Hey, is there anything going on in  your life that we could pray for you about today?” That opens all kinds of conversations.

How do you get the older people in your congregation involved with outreach?

There’s an organization called International Students Inc. that works on primarily junior college campuses. Parents pay for their kids to come and get a good education in America. Of course, part of that process is learning English.

So, we pair up our seniors at Town & Country with college students who want to practice English. That has opened some amazing doors of friendship.

Are there any sacrifices you’ve had to make to have a Kingdom mindset?

Yes. We have to be willing to let other people use our facilities. Sometimes people get very controlling, saying, “This is my room” or “This is my closet.” We must be organized; we must be willing to share.

One of the beautiful parts of this is we don’t really have custodians in our church. Everybody cleans up after himself to get ready for the next group coming in. It’s a wonderful way to see the Body of Christ cooperate. In fact, it’s been pleasantly surprising on how well it’s gone. People think, God has blessed us here and now. Let’s get this ready so God can bless the next group.

What’s your advice for a church in a community that’s not as diverse or populated as Southern California?

"Laundry Love" provides a way for church members to pay for people to wash their laundry and pray for them while they wait. Illustration by Kenneth Crane.

We tend to want to measure our success by how many are gathered in the worship center on Sunday morning. I think that is a totally wrong criteria for success. I think the criteria for success is, “What are we doing to impact our community beyond the four walls of the church?”

That’s why we have about seven outreach ministries in the community, which any church can do in any area. Each of our congregations has its own outreach ministries, and that’s a requirement for them to be a part of us.

How can someone change the culture of his or her church toward a Kingdom mindset?

One key is we must refocus on the importance of evangelism. One simple way we’ve done that is on our communion table, we have what we call our “new birth candle.” It looks like a normal large-size white candle. We light that candle anytime someone comes to the Lord through our ministry in the previous week. It could be on campus. It could be at Laundry Love. It could be taking food to the Cambodians. It could be any number of ways.

As you begin to develop this practice, people come in looking to see if the candle is lit because if it is, they know they’ll hear a story about someone coming to Jesus. It’s been the most encouraging, motivating thing. When we share a story, people break out in applause. I find that what people keep hearing about is what they start supporting.

How do you get people involved in overseas missions?

Part of our vision is we would like to be a sending church. We had our first intern from Alliance Theological Seminary this last summer. She had an outstanding experience. We’re looking for interns, those who would want to do their two years of home service before the field, to come and join us.

Also, every Sunday I put together a prayer request from our missionaries, and I put it in the worship folder. We pray for that person or couple from the pulpit, or I have someone in the congregation pray for them. Then I say, “Will you put your worship folder in your Bible, and when you have some time with the Lord this week, will you pray for this family?” That helps to mobilize everybody with a Kingdom mindset that is not only about our community but also the world.

How do you balance a focus on evangelism with discipleship?

We don’t have a lot of the traditional sort of things going that a lot of churches have just because of our facility and our size. Primarily, our discipleship is through our worship services, in small groups, or in one-to-one follow-up.

Pastor Sonly uses Theological Education by Extension (TEE) to train leaders in his Cambodian congregation. The Hispanic congregation uses some Spanish follow-up material. We also run some marriage classes, and we have classes just for men and just for women.

Have you seen things come full circle with people who are discipled becoming a part of evangelism?

Oh, yes. They come into a church where the culture is all about this, so they hear about it, they see it. Or they are the ones who have experienced it. When they share their testimonies, the church gets excited to hear what God has done in transforming a family or an individual.

A story from a Cambodian family is they had a huge statue of Buddha in their living room. As soon as they came to Jesus, they booted Buddha. He’s in the dumpster. It’s fun to see these people experience transformation, and they share their stories and their understanding of what we’re about. We think of Celebration Church as God transforming lives.

There’s a missionary who was in West Africa 39 years and has been at Town & Country about 15 years. Leaving the church one morning, she said, “Never in all my days did I ever imagine that this kind of thing could happen here at this church.” She has felt so blessed in her final season to be a part of a church that is still carrying on the mission of The Alliance.

Learn more about becoming a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 church at Alliance Council 2019 in orlando, Florida, May 28-June 2, 2019. Go to cmalliance.org/council.

4 responses to Church Beyond the Walls

  1. Very inspired by this! So needed! I was looking to see how the older generation was honoured along with reaching out to varied others! And not forgetting our commitment to sending and supporting beyond us here to the least reached world. Thank you!
    Praying for more of this!

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