Ecclesia Stockton was a church birthed in March of 2009. It began with 11 friends in a living room with a desire to be a community that embodied the kingdom of Jesus. Our hope has been to deeply root our hearts within the gospel and root our hands and feet into the background of downtown Stockton.
They have recently join the Ecclesia Network so we thought we would take this opportunity to let them tell you a bit about themselves…
Why did you guys decide to plant in Stockton, CA?
Stockton is a city with a reputation. In 2009 when we planted our church the city of Stockton was rated as the most depressing city in America to live in according to Forbes magazine. The ratings are determined by violence, drugs, unemployment and that Stockton was the foreclosure capital of America during our latest economic pitfall. Our move to the downtown area was very intentional and had to do with the fact that most churches left this area because many of those factors are centralized in the downtown area.
However, our city counsel has made clear moves and decisions to pour resources into this area of our city and we wanted to be there when it happened. With these new found resources put into this area of our city has now created an amazingly diverse group of people who are part of the scene. Some addicted to drugs and part of cycles of abuse while others are addicted to money and the pursuit of the American dream. Both need the kingdom of Jesus to be made tangible and present.
How did you get your start?
In June of 2009 we moved out of our living room and began meeting in a room at the local university. This wasn’t in a geographical location in downtown Stockton but it allowed some of our friends who were interested in being the church differently then what they had experienced could join in on since we were out of space in my living room.
How did you get from the university to downtown?
We knew that because we didn’t live in downtown Stockton that just getting food downtown after service wasn’t enough. Somehow we needed to make downtown our home. Shortly after we decided that we must make it our number one priority to be downtown I ran into an Anglican Rector with a generous heart. We talked about downtown and he was excited that there were other people passionate about downtown. He said several times, “whatever is ours is yours.” We took him up on that offer and asked for use of their building for our Sunday gatherings. He said yes and wouldn’t accept a penny from us.
How have you developed this early group?
At this point our community began to grow. We quickly realized that we needed something to initiate these new people to church and keep gospel community as our focus and not a program or service that we offer to people. So for those who were knew to our community and the way we are church we lead them through an eight week Journaling Community that lead them through what we believed were core to being a missional church. We also found that being Missional meant that small groups as we knew them weren’t in our future. With the help within those of the Ecclesia Network we stumbled onto Missional Communities, which have felt like the missing piece of how a missional church does community.
At this point two thirds of the people who come on Sunday’s are in our Missional Communities. In fact we hold them so central to who we are that if someone does press for numbers in regards to the size of our church I tell them the number in our Missional Communites because it is this place that we believe we have created a pathway to discipleship and a pathway into our city.
What Missional Communities have done for us that I could never do is put power and imagination into the hands of our community. Instead of only a couple leaders saying “outreach” we have found that Missional Communities have empowered our people for mission and have changed their imagination in regards to what they think the church is.
What are a couple key ideas you use as you interact with the downtown community?
Proximity – We think of proximity as just being part of the backdrop of our downtown community. We make it a regular practice to read the local Downtowner paper monthly that talks about what is happening. We often read through it together and highlight and circle things that would be fun to do together. We encourage people to have their accountability groups, community groups and meals downtown as much as possible combined with prayer walks.
We have seen time and time again how just being downtown with no agenda, no strategic plans has opened doors. It has given us eyes to see and understand our community and on several occasions has allowed us to bump into a person of peace to make connections with different people groups within the neighborhood.
Presence – When we think of presence we think of presence as a very focused activity in which we desire to embody the kingdom. On a monthly basis we try to do something with our Missional Community to bless the neighborhood. We ask ourselves 5 filtering questions 1) Where is the shalom/peace broken? 2) What can we do to restore it? 3) Are there any groups in our city whether they have a church background or not that would like to join us? 4) Is it unarguably, unambiguously good? 5) Does it cause us to be known not just by the locals but as the locals?
How have you seen these two values lived out successfully?
These two things, proximity and presence, have combined to let us do several tangible things to connect with our city. We regularly have pizza and ice cream events with ice creams and school supplies during the summer and other needs throughout the year. We’ve had a Style Your Sole Party with TOMS Shoes, that benefited the local Rescue Mission where we offered manicures and pedicures and free TOMS Shoes to the women, that TOMS highlighted on their website. Recently we just had a Casino night for our local Child Abuse Prevention Center.
Recently, one of the greatest compliment our community has received was when the Downtowner paper asked us to let them know whenever we are doing something downtown because they wanted to highlight it and make sure it was in their paper. That meant so much to our community because the Downtowner was the first resource we went to in trying to figure out this area of our city and now they were inviting us to be a part of it.
How “successful” have you been? How do you define “success”?
Kind of an odd question but people who know me often ask if the church is doing good. I’ve struggled with how to answer that question because I know that they are looking for a number to quantify what is good. I could tell them that we have grown by 350% but I don’t because a follow up question will reveal that we grew from 10-35 people, which has been great, but doesn’t quite sound as revivalistic as 350%. The number I have settled on is 2. The number is 2 because Forbes magazine in 2010 ranked Stockton as the second most depressed city in America. We beat Cleveland this year! How successful have we been as a church plant? You tell me, I think the numbers speak for themselves.