Dave Gibbons Is a Church Misfit

Newsong was on its way to becoming Orange County's next big megachurch—then its pastor decided to pull back and go small

Dave Gibbons Is a Church Misfit

This was it.

Easter had arrived, the most monumental day of the year in Christendom, and it was moments before show time. Parking-lot attendants dodged the herd of cars spilling in from Interstate 5, as thousands packed the Anaheim Convention Center's arena for Newsong's 2005 worship-service extravaganza. The multiplatform stage was set: Backup singers stood in their places, digitalized clouds floated across Jumbotrons, laser strobe lights beamed in every direction.

Dave Gibbons, founder of the Irvine-based megachurch, was stunned. "It was mammoth, surreal," he says now. "A picture of what pastors dream about." He had built up Newsong for more than a decade, and the numbers gave him confidence. People were coming in masses. He must be doing something right.

Gibbons at the Newsong home base in Irvine
Mary Bell
Gibbons at the Newsong home base in Irvine
Gibbons at Kidworks in Santa Ana, one of the nonprofits where Newsong members volunteer
Mary Bell
Gibbons at Kidworks in Santa Ana, one of the nonprofits where Newsong members volunteer

Location Info

Map

Newsong

18842 Teller Ave.
Irvine, CA 92612

Category: Religion and Spirituality

Region: Irvine

Newsong

601 E. Valencia Drive
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Religion and Spirituality

Region: Fullerton

The crowd of mostly twentysomethings went quiet as the Convention Center turned to darkness. The words "What if there was no hope? What if there was only DEATH?" flashed on a massive, color-changing screen. A performer took the stage, tilted back the microphone stand, rocker-style, and sang Creed's "What If" with raspy abandon, electric guitarists jamming behind him and sound engineers cranking up the volume to loud.

Waiting to give his sermon, Gibbons watched his event unfold from the sidelines. It was humongous, catapulting Newsong to the level of Mariners, Rock Harbor, Eastside Christian and other up-and-coming Orange County megachurches that were giving the old guard over at Saddleback Church, Calvary Chapel and the Crystal Cathedral a run for their tithes.

But something felt . . . off. Gibbons couldn't shake it. God was here, he was sure, but was this really how he wanted His resurrection celebrated?

"I was like, 'Wow, this is a production,'" Gibbons recalls. "I started thinking, 'Is this what our church has come down to? A consumer-oriented presentation?' I wondered, 'What the heck am I doing? Is this what I'm supposed to be about?'

"That's when the disillusionment began."

*     *     *

Six years later, the pastor is the face of ambitious contentment. The 6-foot-tall Gibbons sinks into a plush armchair in his Irvine living room, propping his bare feet on the coffee table. At 49, he's effortlessly hip, his graying hair spiked to a point and his skin tanned from having been at a Newsong outpost in Thailand. He glances through rectangular geek glasses at the notes on the iPad resting on his jeans.

"Jesus hung out with prostitutes," he explains to the casually dressed college students, young professionals and families who've gathered in his home for a weekly Bible study. They sit wherever they can find room—on the couch, on the floor, in the dining room, up the stairs.

"How many people would say they're friends of prostitutes?" he asks, his voice mellow yet captivating. "Jesus was a lover of people who were outsiders. He said, 'Come as you are.'"

The message is one that Gibbons clings to, one that has radically transformed the way he sees the role of church leaders. Since the 2005 Easter spectacular, he has shifted his focus to "the fringes, not the masses," as he puts it, zooming in on a careful selection of "misfits" whom he believes will change the world. In Orange County, where the Wal-Mart-ized megachurch and its subsequent prosperity gospel is one of our most influential exports, his ideals are bold: Do away with big, resource-swallowing buildings. Dissolve church brands. Decentralize. Shake up the model of mass evangelism that has witnessed dwindling results in recent years.

Small, he says, is the new big.

It's a jolting message from a pastor whose church was named one of the nation's 100 fastest-growing by Outreach Magazine just six years ago, whose Sunday-morning services at Newsong's industrial-warehouse-like home base on Teller Avenue continue to draw about 2,000 each week. But by focusing on "the few," just as Jesus did, Gibbons believes he can spread God's love to the multitudes in a natural, non-preachy, non-formulaic way.

"The common world philosophy is to focus on mass movements," he explains. "In doing so, you're actually creating products that diffuse potency. You're creating a one-size-fits-all piece of clothing. Then, these really brilliant people, like the Mandelas or the John Lennons or the Mother Teresas, are gonna be left out. They're gonna reject church because it's too cookie-cutter, too processed, seems too much like an Amway presentation. But if you nurture them, they'll actually be the movers of the masses."

Gibbons is living out his renewed mission in a spectrum of ways, all of which involve figuratively breaking down church walls. His main passion project these days is Xealot (pronounced "zealot," with the "X" standing for Christ), a nonprofit consulting group he created to identify and equip the next generation of socially conscious leaders. It has mentored handpicked misfits across the globe, from Fortune 500 execs and chart-topping musicians to former drug dealers and orphans. Gibbons' new book, Xealots: Defying the Gravity of Normality, out next month, spotlights some of the success stories and teaches people how to utilize their failures to help them thrive.

He has also made sure Newsong isn't confined to any space or culture or class. The church has launched locations in Mexico City, Bangkok, London and India. Locally, Newsong members are in the community nearly daily, delivering burritos to the homeless, doing laundry for the financially struggling in Fullerton and hosting a "church without walls" on a street corner on Skid Row in Los Angeles, where Gibbons once spent 24 hours as a personal endeavor, to center him on what really mattered in the pastoral experience.

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40 comments
John
John

1dem·a·gogue

noun \ˈde-mə-ˌgäg\

: a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason

The Truth
The Truth

Dave Gibbons is a psychopath. "I can understand their fears. I have the same ones. For too long,religion has been combative versus synergistically collaborative." He is not that smart. This makes no sense whatsoever and serves as a representation of his narcissism and the constant mask he puts up. He uses the human condition for people to give up their lives for his cause. People entrap themselves in his church after providing evocative traumatic memories in which he pathologically empathizes with them only to exploit them for their gifts. He also lies to his community about knowing top CEO's of fortune 500 companies, hedge funds, etc. It is ironic because corporate capitalism strays away from religious cults nor do they flirt with them. I feel poorly for his wife, Rebecca, and his family as he dictates the household with his personal agendas. Every Sunday the church urgently broaches its audience for more donations due to the church suffering quarterly budget deficits, but somehow he has the ability to muster $3 million dollars for the Santora Arts building. Gibbon is a pathological lier, and his vanity and ego will be his downfall.

Carissa
Carissa

Great article. Well written.

Shellyhur
Shellyhur

Dave Gibbons continue to pursue what God has intended for you to do! God bless you and your ministry! It is highly impacting many. Your inspiring messages for all, those who are weak and strong, thirsty for Christ has changed lives! Don't ever let anyone pull you down or even question your ministry because in the end God is your judge and I know He is in favor of you and all that you do!

twinmomma
twinmomma

I do think if you want to call yourself a "Misfit" church, then marginalizing LGBT folks (if what commenters here say is true) is intensely hypocritical.

christa
christa

This article misrepresents and demeans the Christian church in Orange County. I do not believe this author is qualified to make statements such as ..."In Orange County, where the Wal-Mart-ized megachurch and its subsequent prosperity gospel is one of our most influential exports." The prosperity gospel is actually mostly seen within the pentecostal and Charismatic movement in the South, not a very prevalent denomination in Orange County. And the article does nothing to look at why young people are leaving the church. The reason that young people are leaving the church is that the church has become lukewarm, moving away from a message that truthfully proclaims what John the Baptist did..."repent and be saved!" and instead tries to be seeker friendly and entertaining. Honestly, people can find better entertainment at a movie or concert. The job of the church, of true religion is to care for the widows and the fatherless. The way to salvation is repentance.

Ken Webb
Ken Webb

okay - this is one interesting article. almost makes me want to get back into the ministry,...I am actually interested,..on a side note the featured ad on this story is the ad for "T-Girl Nights" very interesting. Back to point,..I wonder if they actually believe in using normal people or "fringe" as they call it,..or if the fringe have to become "unfringed and become closer to a perfection to be allowed to be used. churches are full of people who are still human on the inside with all that it includes yet pretend they are not on the outside - because they are churchy. SonLife Evangelism and all,..Apologetics aside,...I wonder if this place is really for real.

KC
KC

Impressed. And I'm an agnostic.

Blackvulcan215
Blackvulcan215

Who is this 20ftJesus that keeps posting these useless comments? Dude, I don't see your point. This is not a Q&A session. First of all, Dave Gibbons has done wonderful things to make Christianity mainstream to non-believers. I don't understand all the hate here. If you have a problem with Dave, call him up and talk to him. The enemy is out there laughing at us. Most of the Christians who lashed out at one another are hypocrites. What have you done to further God's message and will? You are so quick to judge and lash out. I can't complain about DG. Until I accomplish more things for Christianity, I cannot be his critic.

Second of all, hats off to Dave Gibbons. Your vision is right on track. Give the church to those who need it. I would like Newsong Irvine to grow bigger but that is a selfish vision. Cater to the poor and the sinners who don't know better. Continue with Newsong LA, Thailand, Design All-Stars, and Burrito project. You are making a difference where it counts.

Finally, shame of you who would take this good article about DG and try to slam him and his vision. You have never walked in his shoes. When the service ends, how many people walk up to him and ask, "what does that mean?"

Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson

Thanks Dave! I pray for your commitment to growing small. The motive and message will be radical and costly. I tried to do what you did at my former church and was fired. But I'd do it again. Church has to stop being concerned with itself and pursue Christ and his priorities in the world.

ALim
ALim

I used to attend NS since 2003, but I recently decided to leave as the church, not because DG has lost his way, but because I don't know what way NS is going."Do away with big, resource-swallowing buildings. Dissolve church brands. Decentralize."A good portion of the budget has gone towards facilities, there was an "announcement" that NS would move to Santa Ana, but that never did anything. Newsong's continues to be flashy worship services and repeated, artsy videos of initiatives like the burrito project and laundry of love. NS has decentralized to "empower the congregation" but the current church workers offer little support, guidance or training. For example, the lay counsler program and the small group connections minstry has completely fallen apart.I also think that recently there has been more of a focus on healing miracles and demon attacks. I open to thinking that stuff exists but i also think people use that to trick other people into giving more money. It is especially strange when DG says that stuff is always happening in asia.I guess going small is the right decision. I've been with friends to the Harvest Church next door to NS and they just openned and they have already taken over more parking spaces than NS and have a much more active kids program. I think its tough to compete and people need to find smaller markets to survive.

Shalom 888
Shalom 888

correction: Laundry of Love in Santa Ana not in Fullerton. Thank you

James Rhee
James Rhee

First off, I don't see how this merits a front page article. Even though based in Irvine, this church has less influence over the community than Saddleback's Irvine Ext, Harvest, Bethel, etc. Even their international efforts really are just small groups of people that primarily consist of ex-pats.

Second, going small is not intentional, the church is losing members because of Dave's mismanagement and inability to execute long term projects. Over the past 5 years, a core group of leaders has walked out on Dave to start their own church or go to Saddleback. Furthermore, while every single church on the jamboree corridor is thriving, Newsong continues to run a budget deficit.

Third, these initiative like Xealot, 3rd Culture, Misfits aren't understood by members themselves and are simply flavor of the week taglines supported by a graphic arts campaign, their is no substance, no written mission statement to any of these projects.

Newsong started in Irvine because that's where the money is. Their current current expenses are unsustainable and it seems that the church has focused on developing the Dave Gibbon's name brand. This guy loves name dropping, and he loves bragging about his "influence" over CEO's, pop stars, and high up government officials. This article is only accomplishing three things: feeding his ego, pumping up his speaking fee and marketing his upcoming book. None of which will benefit Newsong Church.

PatriciaDeWit
PatriciaDeWit

Fantastic article by @michellewoo . You've told @davegibbon 's story so well! Really enjoyed reading it.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

OC religion owes a huge debt to Lonnie Frisbee.

James Huang
James Huang

Inspiring to read! Great to see a top story of church on the cover of an OC magazine/weekly. Hope to see something like that in SF!

Bill T.
Bill T.

Touchy, aren't we? I read back through the posts, I don't see the same thing in 20's posts that you apparently do. All he did was ask a question and make a few comments that I don't see as hostile at all. Of course there are people who can't tell the difference between assertive and hostile. Note that I'm not an apologist for 20, he and I are more often on opposite sides of discussions than the same. If the message isn't robust enough to suffer a few questions how can I take it seriously?

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Isn't Harvest Church at the Lakeview Senior Center?

David Liao
David Liao

Wow, why so much hate. The problem with Christians today is that we like to point out what we think are wrong with other Christians while priding ourselves as better followers of Christ, much like pharisees. Instead of working together to build each other up as Brothers and Sisters in Christ in order to spread the gospel to non-believers, we end up fighting with each other over idealogy, membership, my church is better than your church, etc. I've been at Newsong since 2000 and I've seen its ups and downs. Dave Gibbons has always been honest about his struggles as a man in pursuit of Christ. Also, galvanizing members to get out of their comfort zones instead of being Sunday Christians as well as having a focus on reaching non-believers is why many may have left. They felt they weren't being fed enough and they wanted a nice message to listen to on Sundays that didn't make them uncomfortable and introspective about their Christian walk. However, trying to model the church after the life of Christ and His Love is something I think all Churches should strive for.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

DUH...but Newsong doesn't come from Calvary Chapel insanity, so your comments are kind of whack here.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Hi Pastor Dave: What is your church's position on the Theory of Evolution? I checked your web site and couldn't find it. Thanks.

Blackvulcan215
Blackvulcan215

Only 2 posts bro, calm down. Just saying comments and Q's are off-topic. Never said the comments were hostile. Like yours, they are useless and off-topic. Peace!

Cammycat
Cammycat

You are a troll and should stay away from this message board.

Harvest Church only wants money and publicity. If you are jacked up, poor, sinner, sex addict, you are not welcome at their facilities.

Go to the other churches first. Get cleaned up. Now, you are ready for Harvest.

If you are a small church, come and volunteer at a Harvest event. There are lots of grunt work for you to do. After the event is over, please get out before you steal some of our members.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Are you a member at New Song?

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Ah, we now know that Dave is reading the comments.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

My point was Lonnie went after misfits e.g. hippies, beach bums. Same approach as Pastor Dave. It's nothing new. Young people will always be fertile ground.

Bill T.
Bill T.

Calm down? All I did was make a couple observations and ask a question, how is that off-the handle? This just reinforces my feeling that you're maybe one of those people who can't tell the difference between assertion and aggression.

Help me out here, how is a direct response to your comment addressing points you made off-topic? Any particular reason a person can't ask a question because it's "off-topic"? I notice that it was ignored, what message is that supposed to convey?

You say you weren't accusing him of hostility, here are a some quotes that suggest that you were: "... all the hate here.", "... quick to judge and lash out ...", "... try to slam him and his vision.". I don't see any of that tone of rhetoric in his posts.

Homogenius
Homogenius

It would be even more interesting to hear a bit about their commitment to the "marginalized" while identifying with an evangelical movement that calls LGBT people to "life in celibacy".

I believe that's called cow manure.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Excellent.

It would have been interesting to hear a bit about their faith; in particular, whether Gibbons is a Young Earth Creationist.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Gibbon's "like" on Liao's post has disappeared. That's the reason I made my comment -- to show he's dodging the question I left for him.

BTW, is Michelle a member of New Song?

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Um, you didn't see that Gibbons left the first post?

ALim
ALim

@gustavoarellano Are you going to do a follow up with Dave Gibbons? Seems appropriate given that he's now subleasing his church space to Saddleback on Sunday's.

ALim
ALim

@gustavoarellano Do

 
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