Whirlwind Listening Sessions Reveal Common Concerns Across California Churches

Whirlwind Listening Sessions Reveal Common Concerns Across California Churches

Fresno, CA – In a 9-day whirlwind, the freshly-hooded “Dr.” Pete Ramirez, CSBC Executive Director, accompanied by Evangelism Team Leader Jason Blankenship and a contingent of state staff, embarked on an exciting journey spanning a whopping 2,236.4 miles across the expansive California landscape, to participate in the “Hear the Heart” listening sessions campaign. From Santee to Redding, church leaders across the convention convened to offer insights into the challenges and opportunities of modern West Coast church ministry.

These listening sessions, predominantly hosted in churches and one associational office, with a notable exception being a gathering in one back room of a Black Bear Diner Restaurant, drew a diverse cross-section from each region, according to several Directors of Missions. Orange County DOM, Victor Chayasirisobhon was pleased to report, “there was a good microcosm of those who do ministry in the OC…consisting of churches of different ethnicities, including language groups such as the Chinese, Spanish, and English speaking.” Gil De La Rosa echoed a similar sentiment of the Gold Coast Association: “I would say the makeup of those in attendance was a cultural, diverse group, pretty much representing the GCBA well, with small churches and large churches at the table.”

Under the moderation of Blankenship, each session adhered to the promised 2-hour time commitment and followed a strict, 3-part structure, including an introduction from Ramirez reintroducing the goal of reaching 2% of the state’s population by 2033, two key questions, and a closing prayer.

Despite an initial struggle to grapple with the weight of question #1, collaborative sharing ultimately fostered robust conversations.

Question #1:

If you knew your church would grow to 2 – 3 times its current size and launch 2 church plants in the next few years, what are the hurdles you would need to overcome to achieve that goal?

Many responses were indicative of the region. Southern California church leaders are facing inadequate facilities to accommodate that level of growth, while counterparts in the North, particularly those bordering Silicon Valley, share a concern over the hard-heartedness of the surrounding community.

Two prevailing concerns emerged across nearly every meeting, transcending region, race, or church size. First, leaders resonated with a lack of basic receptivity due to the erosion of the Southern Baptist Convention’s once unassailable reputation, tarnished by media scrutiny as well as the recent sexual abuse headlines currently afflicting many religions, denominations, and other faith-based groups.

The second concern, simply stated, is a need for properly trained church leaders. The vast majority of attendees expressed a genuine need to train leaders throughout their church body for service across every ministry, including children, youth, college, overall discipleship, music and worship, and more. They felt resources were insufficient for such a significant need. In a related concern, it was shared that ministry to, and discipleship for, men has also been lacking, resulting in lackluster participation in church attendance and other basic spiritual disciplines, contributing to a diminishing God-fearing influence in society.

Question #2

How can the California Southern Baptist Convention help you be more successful in growing your church and reaching your community?

Some responses varied based on each respondent’s unique circumstances. However, a theme again surfaced. California churches are hungry for opportunities to collaborate, brainstorm, and partner with others who are like-minded and in similar settings to themselves or with those who are ahead by a more achievable measurement.

For example, one volunteer church leader said expensive conferences that require travel and are headlined by leaders of mega-churches have little value to a youth volunteer who has twenty students in his ministry. He would much rather sit across the table with the youth pastor from the next city over, whose church has a similar make-up, to talk about what is working for them.

Ramirez concluded each session by detailing the next phases.:

First, he will assemble a task force comprised of “select staff, board members, and a few leaders from partnering agencies” to consider and work through all that was shared and to craft a strategic roadmap. Finally, he committed to reconvene a second time in the coming months with each group to share, in person, steps toward reaching California’s 2% goal. Tem Mattox, the DOM for Kern County, affirms Ramirez’ decision to include a variety of state and regional leaders in the 2% task force. “I think having the DOMs [and others] respond to the findings is a good thing that will help narrow the focus. Even though we are all limited in what we can do, there were some ideas that are worth paying attention to.”

Sentiments regarding the success of the listening sessions to date have been favorable according to many Directors of Missions who participated and followed up with their church leaders, citing both a bolstering that CSBC staff would even come for that type of conversation and a strengthening of the convention-wide rallying cry that we really are better together.

  • “The San Diego listening session went very well. Pete presented the session as ‘open to all ideas,’ [and] interaction with the audience was excellent.” ~Mike Carlisle, DOM, San Diego Southern Baptist Association
  • “People were happy that Pete would take the time to come out to spend time with us in Orange County and care about what we had to say.  It was more powerful that he came out with his team including Jason, Sarah, Francis, and Jason R.” ~Victor Chayasirisobhon, DOM, Orange County Southern Baptist Association
  • “I had feedback from several of the pastors. The overwhelming thought is, ‘we are better together.’ … It was great for CSBC leadership to share with the pastors and to have CSBC leaders listen to the pastors.” ~ Gil De La Rosa, DOM, Gold Coast Baptist Association

About the Author

Sarah M. Graham
Communications Team Leader, CSBC

Sarah Graham earned her bachelor's degree from Azusa Pacific University and a Master's in Leadership and Business Management from California Baptist University. She currently serves CSBC as the Team Leader for the Office of Communications. Sarah is a mother of two grown children, Kirsten (26, married to Jake) and Daniel (22) and she serves on the worship team at Clovis Hills Community Church.

More About Sarah M. Graham
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