Dan Kimball-pastor, former rockabilly punk band member, and
idolizer of the early Elvis Presley-happened to hear the name
of a Bible study for musicians, he thought at once, That’s
it! He’d finally found a name he wanted to borrow for
his new church service. A felicitous fusion of theological and
pop-cultural references. Graceland.
Graceland is located a long way from Memphis in the high-tech
playground of Santa Cruz, California. And to be truthful, besides
the name and Kimball’s bouffant do, there isn’t much at this
Graceland to remind you of the swiveling singer. Kimball likes to
quote a disavowal from the lips of Elvis himself: “I am not a
king. Christ is King.”
out west is in fact one part of a megachurch called Santa Cruz Bible
Church (SCBC). But don’t call Graceland a church-within-a-church.
call ourselves the Graceland services of Santa Cruz Bible Church,”
clarifies Kimball, 40, the Graceland pastor. “If Graceland was
really a church-within-a-church, then it definitely should be
birthed. You can’t have a body inside of a body otherwise. But
Graceland is intended to be a permanent part of Santa Cruz Bible.”
also uses the term “multicongregationalism” to describe the
experiment going on in his church. The first three weekend services
of SCBC are the “regular” services, while the fourth and fifth
services on Sunday evening are the Graceland services. Graceland
extends the ministry of the church to a population who might
otherwise not feel at home at SCBC.
could say that the non-Graceland services are primarily drawing in
Boomers, while the Graceland services are attracting post-Boomers.
Or you could say that the non-Graceland services of SCBC are modern
and the Graceland services are postmodern in their approaches. But
neither of those attempts at definition quite gets you there.
Kimball chooses to speak vaguely of the Graceland services as being
“geared for younger adults” or as being appropriate for the “emerging
culture” and leaves it at that.
is what it is. Certainly it’s different from the other
services at SCBC, and you’re welcome to come and join in if you
like, regardless of your age or personal style. As it happens, more
than three-quarters of the 800 persons currently attending Graceland
fall into the 15-to-30-year-old age bracket.
as it exists circa 2001 is hardly the result of a template that
existed in Kimball’s mind from the start. Rather, it has evolved
as Kimball and his ministry teammates have responded to unmet needs
and new cultural tendencies they have perceived among the people
they are attempting to minister Jesus to in their geographical area.
It’s a work-in-progress and has been since its beginnings.
Prehistory of Graceland
is for people who don’t feel at home in a more traditional church
environment. Dan Kimball knows what that feels like.
the late 1970s he prayed for salvation when a “Jesus freak”
witnessed to him in a shopping mall. But for a while his newfound
faith didn’t make much of a difference in his life. Not until he
was at Colorado State University, where he studied landscape
architecture, did he began thinking deeply about God, life, and
ultimate meaning. Hoping to explore Christianity further, one
evening he decided to check out a campus Christian ministry. Kimball
by this time was already the drummer for a rockabilly punk band, and
so naturally he showed up at the meeting dressed all in black.
Everyone else was dressed in pastels. “They were all very happy,
as I remember,” says Kimball. “I thought, I
can’t relate to this.”
was only when Kimball graduated from college and moved to London
with his band that he started to make progress in his spiritual
life. He met an 86-year-old pastor named Stuart Allen who took him
under his wing. Kimball began worshiping with Allen’s tiny
congregation (all of them about as old as their pastor) and learning
about the Christian life as a frequent guest into Allen’s home.
“That’s when my faith became real,” Kimball recalls.
a three-month stint on a kibbutz in Israel (Kimball wanted to soak
up the atmosphere where Christianity had its birth), he moved to the
Santa Cruz area with his band. His day job was landscape
architecture, but he put in an increasing amount of time as a
volunteer at Santa Cruz Bible Church. With his pastor’s
encouragement, he next spent a year in Oregon completing Multnomah’s
Bible certificate program. And then, upon his return to Santa Cruz
in 1989, he immediately began working with the high school group at
a couple of years, the high school ministry was attracting 300 teens
for its midweek event, which was a combination of high-energy
large-group meetings and lower-key small-group Bible studies. But
Kimball noticed that the more hard-core teens in his group weren’t
showing much interest in what was going on in the church’s weekend
services. So he took a handful of them to a service and afterward
asked what they thought of it. They gave him an education.
seemed like the band was just putting on a performance,” said one
because the band members would disappear behind curtains after
is the pastor way up on the stage like that?” wondered another.
felt like Wal-Mart in there, not a church building,” said a third
about the new multipurpose worship center.
underscores that the regular services of Santa Cruz Bible Church
were-and are-very contemporary services meeting the needs of large
numbers of people. “The other services are great,” he says. “If
you went to them, you’d think, Wow, this place is happening.
There’s great music, great preaching, and a great pastor and God
is using it tremendously.” But younger generations tend to be
sensitive to different values and issues about church, and that was
reflected by the comments from the “focus group.”
Kimball did some experimenting. He held an “unplugged” service
for high schoolers, featuring acoustic guitars and candles. “I’d
seen that on MTV and thought that was original,” says Kimball. And
it worked. Even the hard-core kids were paying attention.
1996 Kimball took over the church’s college ministry, continuing
to develop his new methodology. The group grew from 40 to 180 in a
year. But what surprised Kimball the most was that people both older
and younger than college age wanted to join in. He realized that
what he had on his hands was not just a college ministry anymore but
the start of a new church service for people of all ages who feel
themselves drawn to this style of worship.
the blessing of the SCBC senior pastor and elders, Graceland was
born as a distinct church service in the fall of 1997.
say you’re a Santa Cruzer who has heard about this Graceland thing
and shown up one Sunday evening. What do you see and hear?
currents in the flow of humanity first push you toward the eddy pool
by the greeter table. There someone gives you a “Howyadoing?”
and offers to answer your questions about Graceland. You chat a bit
and pick up an informational print piece or two from the tabletop.
early, so you order an espresso (coffee, as we know, has become the
third sacrament). Then you drift over to the artwork lining the
black partitions that have been set up to create the worship space.
Along the way you pass a giant Graceland logo made out of hammered
copper. The pieces of art, you discover, are spiritually attuned
artistic expressions created by Graceland members themselves.
a corner, you enter the auditorium. The first thing you notice is
that the haunting musical strains you’ve been hearing are louder
in here. They’re playing tapes of music from the Russian Orthodox
tradition, creating a contemplative mood. Meanwhile, on the video
screens a Bible verse appears, only to melt away and be replaced by
another a minute later.
you take a seat, you examine the stage area. For props, there is a
Roman column, some drapery, and lots of candles aflicker. Random
images-stained glass, nature scenes, and so on-appear one after
another on video screens throughout the service. Steps have been
built to bring the speaker down to the level of the worshipers.
start of the service is signaled by the cutting off of the Russian
music and the start of live music by the church’s band-playing behind
you. There’s a message there: the music is not a performance but
an aid to worship. The music is pop acoustic, guitar-driven. Praise
choruses. Old hymns in hip new arrangements.
long, the blond, sun-tanned preacher starts his talk (you wouldn’t
guess he’s not a California native but originally hails from New
Jersey of all places). It’s a topical sermon, heavily laden with
stories and employing terms that don’t require you to be a church
insider to understand it. But it’s also firmly based on Bible
passages and pulls no punches about beliefs or morals. Somehow
friendly and in your face all at once. Its forty minutes go by
your surprise, you discover that the end of the sermon is not the
climax of the service. After the sermon comes a second, more
extended and intense worship period. There’s more singing. A
spoken prayer. A responsive reading led by a church member from “poet’s
corner.” Scripture reading followed by several minutes of complete
silence for individual prayer or meditation.
pastor invites those who feel so moved to go behind the side
curtains to pray. And at random moments during the worship period,
people do just that. Through a gap in the curtains you see a scene
that reminds you of nothing more than a Muslim mosque-people are
lying facedown or kneeling in prayer. It’s free yet orderly,
discreet yet expressive. Kind of like the Graceland service as a
you head out into the warm California evening, the mood you’re in
is not one of having been manipulated to some sort of rousing
sendoff but rather one of having been in the presence of God.
and Bolts of Multicongregationalism
Kimball defends his church’s approach against both those who say
he should have a separate church and those who say it’s wrong to
have two different kinds of services in a single church.
one time Kimball seriously considered planting a separate church.
“I thought about renting space,” he recalls, “but then I
thought, Why bother? The facility here is available on Sunday
nights. It seemed to make more sense to plant within the church than
have to deal with all the money hassles and buildings and everything
else.” Being a part of Santa Cruz Bible Church also gives
Graceland opportunities for the intergenerational relationships
Kimball considers so important.
when Kimball is criticized for dividing the church more or less
along age lines by holding separate services, he argues that it isn’t
in a worship service that intergenerational relationships happen
anyway. He says, “What difference does it make which worship
service you attend? Real community occurs outside of the worship
service. Real community occurs when you’re in homes together, the
older mentoring the younger. Real community occurs when you’re on
mission trips together.”
short, he sees multicongregationalism as a solution for both
maintaining cross-generational connections and targeting
worship experiences for different populations. To get these dual
benefits, Kimball and other leaders at SCBC have had to work out the
practicalities of their different-but-not-disconnected
of credit for the success must go to SCBC senior pastor Chip Ingram
and the church’s elders. When Kimball approached the church
leadership with the idea of turning his college ministry into a
separate church service for people of all ages, they were not
threatened by it but saw it as a work of God. They continue to
experiment with how to let Graceland be what it needs to be while
keeping the church together as one happy family.
get a lot of empowerment by the senior pastor here,” says Kimball,
“and that relationship is critical. The rest of the church is
graciously allowing this to happen.”
himself, while as keenly aware as anyone of how Graceland needs to
be distinct, is committed to integrating his congregation as much as
possible with the larger church body. “The goal is to see people
become a part, not just of the Graceland community, but of the
entire Santa Cruz Bible Church body life,” says Kimball.
doctrinal statement for SCBC is the same one used by Graceland. The
elders of SCBC are Graceland’s elders. The senior pastor preaches
at the Graceland services three times per year. Kimball and other
leaders of Graceland attend all relevant church leadership meetings.
The once-a-year all-church vision message, given by Ingram, includes
Graceland. These are all techniques for integrating Graceland with
the rest of Santa Cruz Bible.
it comes to the church’s subministries, some are for Graceland,
some are not for Graceland, but most are shared by everyone. The way
it works now, for example, Graceland people coordinate the church’s
home groups for people under 30 years of age, while older home
groups are coordinated in the other side of the church. Graceland’s
children’s ministry on Sunday night is run by the same people as
the children’s ministry for the rest of the church, but it is
staffed by Graceland volunteers. Graceland shares all life-stage
ministries with the greater body. Graceland people volunteer in all
areas of the church.
at SCBC are constantly having to consider how Graceland fits into
the larger picture of the church. But by talking through each issue
as it comes up, they have managed to make multicongregationalism a
working reality in their church.
for Other Pastors
history of Graceland has not been without its misunderstandings and
heartache. Nevertheless, it is an example of how Christians who are
coming from different places can meet different needs while
maintaining genuine Christian unity. Sadly, such unity is not seen
Kimball is troubled by the tension he sees in the Christian church
today between older and younger leaders. His experience at SCBC
gives him a unique perspective from which to speak to both groups.
to older pastors: “Even giant seeker-sensitive churches are
saying, ‘We’re not bringing in young people anymore.’ If that’s
the case for your church, too, don’t think of yourselves as
outdated or out of touch. God is still using you in great ways to
reach certain people in a certain way, and you are called to do that
for the rest of your life. That’s great. But don’t feel that you
have to reach everybody. Allow another expression to birth in your
church if it comes. Empower and embrace those who are called to lead
new services. Allow them to flourish and don’t feel threatened by
them. Have a kingdom mindset, not a controlling mindset.”
to younger pastors: “Let’s get past all of the ego and power and
control issues that come when you try to be the big boss. It’s
okay to plant congregations within existing churches. And let’s
not say that what we’re doing is better than the seeker-sensitive
thing, or whatever; it’s just a different way. And there should be
no criticism of older pastors-‘Oh, those guys are out-of-date’
or ‘Those guys are so program-oriented.’ I think Jesus would
weep at our poor attitudes. We should say God uses different
approaches with different people. We should all have a kingdom
help others who may be thinking about starting a new service similar
to Graceland, Kimball offers the following five question to ask
What type of church service is this going to be-a service for people
in a particular age range or a service that is just culturally
personally think that a life-stage service is going to hit a dead
end,” says Kimball. “Say you’ve got a service for
twentysomethings and a member turns 30. What are you going to do?
Kick him out and make him go to a different service that has
different values and a different way of worship? Postmodernism is
not something that you grow up out of or graduate from. That’s why
almost all of these services that started out as life-stage services
end up becoming all-age services.”
What roles are the elders and senior pastor going to play in the new
has decision-making power over what issues? When will leaders of the
new service participate in leadership meetings of the larger church?
How much of a presence will the senior pastor have in front of
attenders of the new service? Hard feelings can be avoided by
answering such questions in advance.
How are you going to encourage intergenerational relationships?
are lots of older, more mature Christians in the traditional part of
the church whom the younger attenders of a new service could benefit
from knowing. And vice versa. So it’s necessary to consider points
of integration between the new service and the rest of the church.
For example, as at Graceland, older Christians could be drafted to
lead small groups for the younger crowd.
How will the existing children’s, youth, and college ministries be
impacted by the new service?
(let’s say) the new service draws off the college-age members of
the church, the college-level minister may feel that his or her turf
has been invaded. But it doesn’t need to be a competition. There
may be a way of making the new service and the college ministry work
together in a way that builds up both.
How do you prevent the new service from becoming just the hip new
place in town for all the young Christians to go to?
some extent, it’s all right if Christians from other churches
start turning up at your door because you’ve got new music and a
different approach they resonate with. But if you’re intending
your service to be a missional venture, you have to consider ways to
keep from losing your focus on reaching unbelievers and the
through issues such as these, pastors can plant new congregations
within existing churches, just as Kimball has, to contextualize the
gospel for emerging generations in their own hometowns.
asked what Elvis Presley would say if he showed up at a Graceland
service, Kimball responds, “He’d probably say, ‘What the heck
is this?’ It’s definitely not his mama’s Baptist church. But
then he’d fall in love with the people.”
himself has fallen in love with the people, and it is for their sake
that he has created a place of grace where they can be themselves
and meet with their God.
courtesy of Graceland.
Stanford, age 37, is a contributing
editor for Next-Wave Web magazine. He runs an
home in Colorado Springs, mostly doing editing for book
publishers and writing for magazines. His great desire is to
help the Christian publishing industry learn to serve
postmoderns more effectively. Eric studied English at Judson
College and theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.