In 1987 Pastor Steve was given a vision for the Westside of Los Angeles. He says this confidently, but with fear and trembling because the vision is God's and not his own. Unsure how best to communicate it, he wrote what he saw through the eyes of a fictional reporter for the L.A. Times in the year 2000-something.
METRO CHURCH IN THE YEAR 2000-something
(A fictional article appearing in the L.A. Times)
Metro Church is a modern day phenomenon. It is not at all the traditional church our parents attended. They use the same bible and teach the same truth, but at Metro, the Gospel is presented in a manner and style that relates to today's generation. The Message hasn't changed, just the methods. Pastor Steve Snook says, "Metro is a reflection of its Source and master Craftsman, Jesus Christ." He goes on to say, "God has wanted to reveal Himself in Los Angeles for years. All of the credit goes to Him." Steve and a staff of many lead this growing church in Los Angeles. Their mission is to see Los Angeles changed from the inside out.
Through their home base on the Westside, their network of mini-churches, and numerous ministries across the Southland, Metro touches the lives of thousands each week. The home campus includes the main auditorium for their large weekly gatherings as well as facilities for other activities including classes, children's ministries, and special events. The campus also sports a coffee house, bookstore, pre-school (awarded the "most innovative and educational pre-school in Los Angeles" last year), and Metro's own printing facilities. One of the city's finest counseling centers is located here, as well as a 24-hour prayer center, a community service center, the church office complex, and a youth center. No space is wasted at Metro Church.
On any given weekend (there is a service on Saturday night and three on Sunday) you will see thousands of people, much like the crowds you might see on a busy afternoon at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or the Westside Pavilion in West Los Angeles, all going to church. They come from varied backgrounds and lifestyles, all having one thing in common: their "citizenship in a heavenly community," as they say around here. But what is the glue that holds this "community" together? What purposes drive them? Steve says, "Like a physical body, there are many parts or members, all having different functions, but each helping to support the others. The bible says the church is the body of Christ, with Jesus being the Head and the members being the rest of the body. This church would fall apart if it were to be run only by the pastor or staff, but Christ holds it together as He works in the lives of all of these people."
The glue, in the technical sense, seems to be the small groups, or "mini-churches," that are continually multiplying all over the city, from Malibu to Hancock Park, from Marina Del Rey to Hollywood Hills, and everywhere in between. The groups are further sectioned off into communities, for example, Santa Monica, Westwood, and the Marina. The people meet together every week in their mini-churches, once a month in their community churches, and once a month at the mother church, an auditorium, or an outdoor venue. Everyone is encouraged, but never pressured, to be involved at every level. Metro church is committed to developing a strong sense of community throughout Los Angeles, and strives to make a positive impact on the city.
What do the mini-churches look like? I asked the mini-church coordinator that same question. He said, "The foundation of Metro church is built on a variety of small groups consisting of an average of five to fifteen people. They meet to share in a study of the Bible and how it applies to their daily lives, developing a sense of community, intimacy and accountability." He went on to say, "We believe that God meets us right where we are. Therefore, we gear our groups toward five things: first, a person's interests and temperament; second, where he or she is in their Christian growth; third, their schedule; fourth, their network; and fifth, their community. Many of these groups are basic support groups, some generalized, and others, more specific, for example, compulsive behaviors and addictions. There are also specialty groups where people who share similar careers or lifestyles, for example, actors, musicians, single parents, and college students, come together do discuss their lives in view of the bible and their passions.
Metro Church has developed a positive image and a name for itself in Los Angeles. When asked how it happened, Steve said, "These people have followed Jesus Christ's example, listened to His voice, and lived their lives God's way instead of their own. God is the originator of creativity and He has shown it through Metro Church in a number of ways. One way has been through our coffee houses, which have become the gathering places for not only Metro's community churches, but also for the locals in general. There is the 'Refuge' in West Los Angeles, 'ZOE' in Santa Monica, the 'Night Light' in Marina Del Rey, or 'Eye to I' in Westwood, each having it's own creative edge, setting the standard for its competitors in each area. Not only do they make the best Java around, but they also have become a place where Metro Church has brought Christianity to the street level. You can have an excellent cappuccino, enjoy some great entertainment, or just talk with friends, and not once have "religion" shoved down your throat. They offer poetry-reading, concerts, comedy and art shows, up to any standards of excellence in Los Angeles.and they don't take you to the cleaners. The cover charge for a concert or special event is usually free, but it is never over the price of a movie. There are discussion groups open to anyone, and there is always someone to talk to. On Saturday mornings, they have storytelling and crafts for kids as the coffee houses are transformed into 'Hot Chocolate,' a club for kids.
Like many of you, I heard all of this and wondered, "Can this be for real?" So, I tried it for myself. To be honest with you, I was a little apprehensive until I went inside. The environment was different than in other coffee houses in the city. It was warm and everyone seemed genuinely friendly. I wasn't sure what to expect. After ordering a café au lait and a slice of cheesecake, my date and I sat in the corner in big overstuffed chairs, with a coffee table between us. Immediately, I looked around for a portrait of Jesus or a "Jesus loves you" sign. The only sign of Christianity was a worn bible sitting on the counter. A very talented trio featuring acoustic guitar, upright bass, and tenor saxophone were softly playing jazz on the small stage. A concert was scheduled that night and the place was filling up quickly.
At 9:00PM an emcee stepped on to the stage and welcomed us to "ZOE." He explained their name (ZOE), which means "eternal life," and their mission, which is to spread throughout Los Angeles the Source of eternal life. He then introduced the entertainer and said, "God bless you." Appearing on stage was a trendy, petite, blond woman with a booming voice and a big smile that won the hearts of everyone there. The lyrics talked about life, family, victories and failures, love and pain, and loneliness. One thing became very clear to me: that life, to her, centered around Jesus Christ. The show was not filled with syrupy lyrics containing Christian clichés, or presented with a "holier than thou" attitude. There was a message of love and hope portrayed through the music and dialogue of this honest performer, who sang straight from her heart. She did not appear to be concerned with bringing attention to herself, but rather to God. Her message was one of acceptance, of a God who loves me as I am and patiently waits for me to respond to His love. I left "ZOE'" not only having had one of the best café au laits in town and heavenly (pardon the pun) cheesecake, but also having heard quality music with a message that touched my heart.
I decided that if I could make it through this, having thoroughly enjoyed myself, I could chance going to one of the services at the main church. As I drove up to the church on Sunday, I was greeted by a friendly man who directed me to the parking structure across the street, where I had no problem finding a space(a miracle in this city). The cars around me were practical, the people seemed normal, but what would I find inside? To my surprise, people who seemed really genuine greeted me. I followed everyone toward a huge warehouse-type building. Inside, there were bare brick walls, a cement floor, and an open-beamed ceiling. Everything was designed in a contemporary fashion, reminding me of a huge art gallery. To my right, I saw the entrance to the bookstore and espresso bar. There was a big antique pine information desk in the lobby, manned with smiling faces, directing people to children's classrooms, the nursery, and restrooms. They were answering questions and handing out literature on activities and services offered at the church. As I entered the main auditorium, I was greeted and handed a rather classy-looking bulletin. There was an air of expectancy in the room, which I cant' explain, but it was charged with something special. A ten-piece band was playing instrumental jazz selections as people were quietly visiting all over the auditorium, I didn't feel threatened, but I kept waiting to see what would happen next. The seats were set up in a semi-circle, with a stage in the center, surrounded by state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment. As the music suddenly became louder, the people began finding their seats. The place was electric and it drew me in as the vocalist began to sing. As I sat and listened, I noticed many were singing along. "This is church?" I kept asking myself as I heard studio quality musicians leading this large congregation in singing songs to God. In a perfect mix of jazz, pop, R & B, and even some rock and roll, the music would appeal to most anyone's taste. This was a real celebration and it was all aimed at praising God.
After about fifteen minutes, the pastor warmly welcomed everyone and encouraged us to do the same to someone around us. The tempo became slower and a beautiful chorus, sung in four-part harmony, led us into a time of reflective worship. As I looked around, I saw people who were truly focused on the words they were singing and on the One to whom they were singing. What followed were more soft, reflective songs of praise, intermingled with scripture and prayer.
There was freedom to express yourself as you chose; yet nothing happened that would make anyone feel uncomfortable. No one was forcing or manipulating the emotions I saw around me. It was intriguing to see the faces around me filled with love, joy and peace. The music led into a time of silence and reflection, followed by a prayer for those present, for our city, and for the world. I can't say that I have ever seen God, but as I looked around me, I had the impression that these people knew God in a very personal away. The tempo picked up again for a final song. The next twenty-five minutes went by very quickly and there was the freedom to either participate or to remain anonymous. As the music ended, the focus immediately shifted to a small platform next to the main stage, where a very funny sketch entitled "Love in L.A." held my attention. The stereotypical L.A. characters had me laughing at myself. Afterwards, the pastor stepped onto center stage, carrying his Bible. He didn't look the way I had expected - no tie, no TV evangelist hairdo - he looked like you or me. He opened with a few humorous remarks and told a personal story about his week that led to a question I have often asked myself, "What do I love more than anything in the world?"
What followed were some solid, practical answers. His source was, without question, the bible, but his message was articulated in such a way that almost anyone could understand. His delivery contained humor, straight talk aimed at our heads and hearts, and time for personal reflection, and never once did I feel condescension. He closed with a penetrating question; challenging us to respond to the message we had heard. Music began to play, in which the lyrics, supporting the message just delivered, were heightened by an interpretive dance, making the words come to life. As the dance ended, the pastor led the congregation in a prayer and invited anyone who wanted a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to pray with him. There was no pressure or prodding, but many responded. Those who had prayed were invited to speak to counselors after the service. Announcements of upcoming activities were given and an offering followed (with no pressure to give, another miracle in itself), then a few closing remarks were made as one more song closed the day. People began greeting one another and no one seemed to be in a hurry to leave. As I entered the lobby, I noticed there were tables set up with information on the mini-churches, activities for all ages, special events, free Bibles and tracts, tapes of the message, visitor packets, calendars of upcoming events, and flyers on everything from sports teams to parenting classes. It is obvious that Metro Church is here for the people, loving God as they love each other. They are making a positive impact on Los Angeles and beyond by modeling true servanthood. Their reputation is impeccable. If they are a reflection of who God is, maybe this is the good news the City of Angels has been waiting to hear.
Metro Church is helping to break down the walls that have built up over the years because of racial and economic tension, and they are helping to build unity among churches. Metro Church is truly a healing force as they have brought the truth of their faith to the streets of Los Angeles.