SAN DIEGO (BP) — While everyone else at New Song Parkside Church stood to sing — including Rick Hynes’ wife Antoinette, — Rick stayed in his seat with his arms crossed.
Later, when pastor Jim Britts was able to spend some time with Hynes, the veteran of nine Marine deployments told him, “There’s no way God could forgive me for some of the things I’ve done overseas.” When Britts asked Hynes how he dealt with the guilt, Hynes replied, “Well, I play video games and try not to lash out at my kids.”
“You need a new strategy,” Britts said. He explained the forgiveness of Jesus and the Gospel, and Hynes gave his life to Christ. The next Sunday, Hynes told him after the service, “Hey, Jim, don’t tell anybody, but I cried in church for the first time in my life.”
Hynes is not the only one at New Song Parkside whose life has changed. In the San Diego church’s first 18 months, they have baptized 84 people.
The Parkside Three-Week Challenge
Rick and Antoinette — and dozens of couples like them — connected with congregation through Kids Unleashed, a church program that offers free lessons to children in their North County, Calif., neighborhood. The wide variety of options — basketball, soccer, dance, cheer, drum line, magic, guitar, piano, sign language and more — draws young families to the church on Sunday mornings. Hundreds of kids join the activities on the playground and in classrooms of Temple Heights Elementary School, while New Song Parkside is holding its second worship service of the day in the school’s cafetorium.
Planted in September 2014 as a fourth campus of the original New Song Community Church in Oceanside, about 130 of New Song Parkside’s 250 adults will be engaged with Kids Unleashed for its seven-week run this spring. During the program’s closing ceremonies, Britts presents what he calls “the Parkside Three-Week Challenge.”
“I say, ‘Hey, would you check out Parkside for three weeks? You’ve come once. There’s only two more to go. At the end of three weeks, if this doesn’t feel like something good for your family, let me know and I will personally help you find a church that would be. It’s not about Parkside, it’s about finding a place where you can see all God has in store for your life.'”
The church’s content is for believers, but the programming is for seekers, Britts said.
“We have the seeker — the person who’s not interested in God — in mind every single week,” he said. “We have a sign out front, as you walk in, that says ‘No perfect people allowed.’ I tell everyone that sign’s out there so I’m allowed to come to my own church.
“We are trying to take people, wherever they are in their spiritual journey,” Britts noted, “and show them that God has awesome plans for them and their families and wants them to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
A need for new creations
The difference that can be made by transformed lives is badly needed in North County, Britts said.
More than 56 percent of the area’s residents are “Nones” with no religious affiliation at all, contrasted with a national average of 25 percent. The community is 60 percent Hispanic, and many of those parents speak little or no English, which makes it more difficult for their children to succeed in school. In fact, the four elementary schools closest to New Song Parkside rank 20 percent or more below California’s state testing average. And, not unrelated, the community adjacent to the church ranks sixth in the entire United States for percentage of people in prison and in recovery programs.
New Song Parkside is the first congregation planted in the neighborhood in 25 years, and they don’t intend to be the last.
“We are definitely a reproducing church,” Britts said. “We are partnering with a sister church in Mexicali to start a church there. We have one — and we are hoping two — church planters in our church in the next 18 months, and we are going to send them out with people. We are starting a Spanish service with a pastor who is from our community.”
For New Song Parkside, however, church planting isn’t about growing a big congregation.
“I think the best thing I have ever done for somebody discipleship-wise is have them plant a church with me,” Britts said. “Planting churches changes the lives of the people who plant. We think it should be impossible to come to Parkside for three years and not be part of a church plant.”
Visit New Song Parkside Church at http://newsongchurch.com/locations/parkside.