California Megachurch Turns Aircraft Plant into Spiritual Powerhouse

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By Steven Lawson in West Covina, Calif.

The charismatic Faith Community Church recently built a sanctuary on a site where military planes were built.

In a building where Hughes Aircraft engineers once created stealth bomber technology, more than 4,500 Christians now worship, fellowship, pray and tear down the spiritual strongholds of an invisible enemy.

The independent charismatic Faith Community Church, one of the fastest growing congregations in Southern California, unveiled a 2,500-seat sanctuary as the centerpiece of its 21-acre converted defense industry complex last May.

The uniqueness of Faith’s facility, located just east of Los Angeles in middle-class West Covina, has not escaped the attention of the secular media. Among others, NBC’s Today show visited the sanctuary—which intentionally looks more like a television studio than a traditional house of worship.

"We want to be seeker-sensitive," senior pastor Jim Reeve said. "We designed this place to be user-friendly."

Raised in West Covina, Reeve was a baseball player good enough to catch the eye of some scouts. In college, however, he was redirected into ministry, being influenced by Christian heroes such as Corrie ten Boom, Billy Graham, Chuck Smith and Bob Mumford. At about the same time, his mother was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Reeve, who soon also became a charismatic, entered youth work in the Church of Christ congregation where he grew up. "We knew we were to start a church," Reeve says of himself and his wife, Marguerite. "We saw what Jack Hayford had done with Church on the Way and believed we needed something with the same balance between strong biblical teaching and moving powerfully in the Holy Spirit."

In January 1980, 340 people showed up for the inaugural service. Reeve had expected only 100 and prepared communion for that number.

"God did a miracle," he recalls. When ushers had finished distributing the elements, there were leftovers, he said.

Faith Community moved to larger and larger meeting places, finally purchasing the deserted Hughes plant in 1996 for $7 million—a bargain for a property assessed at $17 million. Perhaps the biggest chance to shape the church came in 1987, when Reeve was challenged by members to make the congregation interracial.

"I argued, ‘But I am as white as they come,’" Reeve said. "But God said, ‘Are you willing?’"

The worship soon shifted from what Reeve calls "tender white songs" such as "Thy Loving Kindness" to a more aggressive, almost black gospel style. "We now worship ‘in-your-face’ and in His presence," he said.

Faith Community does not simply teach reconciliation; the congregation actively pursues a multi-ethnic agenda. For five years, the church has celebrated Black History Month and now has a celebration to honor latin Americans. This strategy has attracted an unusual mix of Hispanics, Asians, African Americans and Caucasians. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of the congregation is previously unchurched, or they come from a nominal Roman Catholic background.

About 40 percent of the congregation is Hispanic. Thirty-five percent is white, 15 percent black and nearly 10 percent Asian, with the Asian group growing the fastest.

"This church reflects the people of Southern California," said Seattle pastor and popular Bible teacher Casey Treat, who often speaks at Faith Community. "(Because of the racial diversity) I see Faith Community getting bigger and bigger."

The church has held Spanish-language meetings, but Reeve prefers full integration when possible. "Something dynamic happens when we worship side by side," he said. Morning worship services are translated, with Spanish-speaking congregants using headphones. Reeve would like to see this expanded to other languages as well.

Perhaps the greatest examples of cross-cultural success are home care groups, such as the one led by Tina Chancy. She switched from a predominantly black church three years ago, wanting more racial balance.

"Here at Faith I found a genuine love and acceptance of all people," Chancy said. Today her care group has black, white, Hispanic and Asian members. Perhaps most telling: She didn’t realize the mix was there until she was asked about it.

Faith Community has launched dozens of vibrant programs, from vast Thanksgiving feasts for the homeless to a mass teen pledge of sexual abstinence. The congregation has also sent missionaries to plant a church in the former Soviet Union.

Reeve often turns his podium over to nationally known teachers including Oral Roberts, Jack Hayford and Larry Lea. School administrators, truck drivers, police officers, students, even rapper and actor Deezer D (who plays Molik on ER) call Faith Community their spiritual home. This has combined to give the church a platform from which it can influence all of Southern California.

Although Reeve earned a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, he retains his appealing, down-to-earth folksiness and a single charge: "When people come here, the most important thing for them to say is, ‘Jesus was in this house today.’"

Reprinted by permission, Charisma.