John Scott has seen colossal transformation in his more than 30 years at Community Christian Church in Hemet, California.
“In the last ten years since the economic crash, our valley took an absolutely huge hit and never has recovered,” said John. The main industry in the area was housing. Right before the crash he remembered, “There were 55,000 homes in Hemet city limits approved to be built. None of them got built. ”The result was a drastic shift in the population of the area.
“I don’t know if this is completely accurate, but the way I say it is, a third of our valley left to find work and were replaced in the next three to four years with people who were early dismissal from prison, parolees, gangs from LA.”
And the change is continual. “It feels a lot like a military town, because we’ll have people with us for six months or a year or two years, and then they’re gone because they get a job opportunity somewhere else,” John noted. “If they can get out of our valley, they get out.”
What does it take to survive that kind of change? For Community Christian, the answer goes back to the roots of the church.
Children & Families
“A group of retired people started this church with the vision to reach young people and young families,” said John. “Even though at the time it was mostly a retirement community, there was affordable housing for young families, and they could see the young families coming.”
Community Christian hired John as a youth minister in 1987. The church had only two middle schoolers, but within months there were rows of kids on Sunday mornings.
“That vision to reach young people has driven our major decisions down through the years,” said John. “While we have people of every age at our church and are excited to see people baptized from the age of 8 all the way up into their 90s, we definitely are geared toward a younger audience.”
In 1990 John was asked to move from his role as youth minister to become Lead Pastor of Community Christian Church and has had years of challenging yet steady ministry. The church has had more than 1,500 baptisms in the last 12 years, about 120-160 a year.
“While it’s been difficult ministry for us because we’ve lost a lot of really good, solid people,” said John, “we just continue to reach people who need Jesus.”
Ministry & Marriage
As is often evident in challenging ministries, God had the right people for the job. Brad Dupray, Senior Vice President, Ministry Development at CDF, calls John and his wife, Michelle, one of the best ministry couples he knows.
John met Michelle shortly after he arrived in California, and they’ve been married more than 30 years, raising two daughters—and they recently welcomed their first grandbaby. John describes himself as “an evangelist at heart” and Michelle, he said, is “like an extrovert on steroids. She makes people feel at home and welcome.” Who better to help a constant influx of new people come to know Christ and get connected to other believers?
Some people in the congregation of about 1,000 don’t even realize they’re married—John is on stage and Michelle is working with people behind the scenes, talking to people in the lobby and helping them find a seat. Occasionally, though, their partnership is more visible.
“Last year there was one week I was losing my voice, so I had her come up with me, and she would read the Scriptures and then I would talk about them,” John shared. “That gave me a chance to take a break, take a drink. People were like, ‘She has this amazing voice. If I had her on my Bible app, I would listen to her every day.’”
Changing With Change
John and Michelle’s gifts for evangelism and welcoming have transferred to the members of the church by example and intentional equipping. While no one saw the impact of the 2008 economic crashing coming, God was preparing the way.
“Leading into that time, not knowing what was about to happen, we really got very clear on being an externally focused church as far as service projects and ministry in our community,” said John. “Then when all this stuff was happening and people needed help, the city would actually call us.”
Today the valley is still struggling financially, and John and the church has seen another toll that it has taken. “We have a generation of young parents who’ve never seen healthy marriages or parenting,” said John.
“We just continue to reach people who need Jesus.” —John Scott
Community Christian’s vision to connect with families and youth infuses the new building that they are constructing.
“It’ll be a preschool during the week,” which John explained will double the capacity of their current preschool program to more than 100. “But we see it as so much more than that. It’s place where we can be training parents. We can have kids come in for dance or music classes during the week. That gives us a chance to meet and support parents.”
“We’re right across the street from the biggest high school and biggest stadium in our valley,” said John, and the church has a strong relationship with the school. “So we built the corner piece of the building for all kinds of stuff, not just for children. The corner has an outside patio, so we can have coffee or pizza, we can have stuff after football games. We want to make it a hangout place for some of these high schoolers.”
The building also features a 250-seat auditorium for smaller events like weddings and funerals, and the stage has a roll-up door at the back so a band can play facing indoor or outdoor audiences. The preschool section is fully secure from the multiuse part of the building.
Financial Wisdom + Vision
Community Christian had a vision for using a new building as a place to gather as a church family and to reach out to their community simultaneously. But they needed help to make it a reality. They turned to a familiar partner: CDF Capital.
“We’ve been partners with CDF as long as I’ve known,” said John. “Our first building loan was before I got here, and that was with CDF. We’ve been with CDF every project we’ve ever done. They’ve been amazing.”
Not only did CDF help them secure the finances they needed, they also provided financial wisdom and the persistence needed to make the vision happen. “On this project, they told us our economics were . . . sketchy’s not the right word,” laughed John. “That’s what they meant, but they used a more formal word than that. But they worked with us and held our hand through this thing. We run pretty lean. I have less staff now than I did when we ran 500, and we run 1,000, but that’s kind of our new normal.”
CDF suggested the church start a reserve fund to help make sure they could pay for the building. “We started putting $10,000 away at the beginning of our project. Now we have a couple hundred thousand dollars. So if we are ever stressed to make a payment, we have an account to draw from.”
From that place of financial freedom, John and Community Christian hope to continue to share Christ with the families of their valley, transforming the lives of those who live there—no matter what economic or other changes come their way.
Read more from The Cornerstone Summer 2019
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