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

*     *     *

The young family climbed into a U-Haul and lugged its life toward Orange County, one of the Holy Lands of American Christianity, the region that has spawned everything from the modern-day megachurch movement to the Jesus Freaks to the pioneering radio evangelism of Charles E. Fuller, an orange farmer in Placentia whose Old Fashioned Revival Hour revolutionized the use of media to spread the Word and who founded Pasadena's influential Fuller Theological Seminary. By the 1990s, a second wave of influential Christianity had hit the county and its booming South County suburbs in the form of the post-suburban megachurch. There was Mariners in Irvine, Saddleback in Lake Forest and San Juan Capistrano's Ocean Hills Community Church—all places that ditched the pipe organs and pews to become modern Protestant supercenters led by charismatic, casually dressed "pastorpreneurs."

Through that decade, the buzzwords in modern American Christianity were "church growth," heavily pushed by the Fuller Theological Seminary. Gibbons, a wide-eyed pastor in his early thirties, was inspired by OC's mega-movements—Saddleback's Rick Warren and other Christian icons such as Bill Hybels of Illinois' Willow Creek Community Church were like rock stars to him—but he was also conflicted. These churches were very big, but they were also very white. And the Korean megachurches in Orange County—Bethel in Irvine and SaRang Community Church in Anaheim (the largest non-English-dominant church in the United States)—weren't much better in spreading diversity.

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

"I saw the megachurch growing, but it was based on a homogeneous principle," Gibbons says. "It was all about relevance, and it was all about targeting people. It was like setting a trap. Their idea was 'We can grow our churches if we can attract people like us.' Is there anything outstanding or brilliant about loving someone like you? Anyone can do that. I think it's really tough to love someone who's not like you."

Newsong started in 1994 with seven people in Gibbons' living room. It snowballed from space to space—the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana, Irvine High School's football field, the Santa Ana Elks Lodge, a conference room at the Atrium Hotel in Irvine. Eventually, Gibbons connected with South Coast Community Church; it let Newsong use its church facilities for worship services and offices.

The church had a constant forward momentum, attracting mostly Gen X Asian Americans from surrounding churches and UC Irvine. Christine Bae, 26, attended Newsong in its early days and found it a refreshing departure from Bethel, the church she grew up in, saying Gibbons spoke about real-life issues with an honesty and sensitivity she'd never seen.

"At Bethel or any other traditional Korean church, they don't know what marriage counseling is," says Bae, who works in the entertainment industry. "Addictions, pornography—these are things that aren't talked about. It's all about the image factor. You have to be this perfect person. Dave opens up the conversation and allows people to touch on these deeper issues in a safe place. He makes you realize we're all jacked-up people."

She adds, "Dave is one of us. He never puts himself on a pedestal. He's not just someone who just gets up onstage. He makes us feel like we're all doing life together."

Newsong was growing fast. It had planted churches in Fullerton and Los Angeles, and its Irvine congregation had settled into a 65,000-square-foot home. In 2004, the staff discovered a 10-to-20-acre expanse of land on Jamboree Road off Interstate 5 had become available. The church launched a collection campaign, and Gibbons started studying a packet popular in evangelical churches called "How to Raise Funds." When encouraging church members to give, it suggested to use the line "It's not about the building; it's about what happens inside the building."

Gibbons tried it, and it worked. "I felt like I was a puppet," he says. "It felt really weird."

Ultimately, after raising $5 million, Newsong was outbid by Korean car company Kia Motors for the land. "I felt God say, 'Why are you so disappointed?' I thought it wasn't about the building, but what happens inside the building," he says. "Then I heard God say something that wrecked me. He asked, 'Is it more important what happens inside the building or outside?' And that really messed me up. And then God said, 'David, what would the church look like if it weren't confined to a piece of land?' And that just blew my mind."

The pastor was disenchanted by the growth pamphlets and the numbers and the Easter showcase; he went into a deep funk. Gibbons told his staff he didn't want to be a pastor anymore, that his heart just wasn't in it.

Then, in an act of providence, one of Newsong's first major investors invited him to Thailand to start a church there. Gibbons felt God telling him to go. Seeking a good opportunity to get away and perhaps gain some clarity, he left for the country in 2005.

It was an enjoyable experience, but Gibbons noticed things that taught him what not to do in order to successfully spread the Word. Christianity had been in Thailand for 100 years, yet the population was only 1 percent Christian. Westerners had come into Thailand and built Western-style churches with rows and a pulpit in the front, even though Thais traditionally sit in a circle and face one another. He looked at the Christians there and saw that a lot of them wore suits to services despite the relentlessly humid 95-degree weather. "I go, 'Gosh, this is what we do in America. We have all these new cultures coming through, and there's, like, this imposition of culture,'" he recalls.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
38 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?

 
Loading...