HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (BP) – Surfing involves a lot of things coming together. The waves have to be breaking. One has to get a sense of the ocean’s movement, when the wave is about to approach and join it. When that happens, it can take you farther than you expect.
The moniker “Surf City” officially belongs to Huntington Beach (though Santa Cruz disagrees). Jan and Dean, after all, had it in mind when they sang the popular 1963 release of the same name. Long before that, however, the area was a cattle route and went through several names like Shell Beach, Smeltzer and even Gospel Swamp. In 1909 its first mayor, Ed Manning, saw its incorporation as Huntington Beach.
Manning’s family remained in the area, including his great-grandson, Duane Wentworth. As the city has seen many changes, so have Wentworth and his wife Cindy witnessed numerous changes at Huntington Beach Church. The most recent has come through the revitalization efforts led by their pastor, Jason Robertson. Five years ago, HBC had dwindled in membership and was months away from bankruptcy. Today, the church is growing with five congregations meeting on its campus.
“Jason is an evangelist at heart,” Duane said. “The church was virtually on its death bed when he arrived, and he started reaching out in every direction he could.”
HBC is “one church expressed in multiple churches,” Robertson said, or as “a local community of Christians maturing and multiplying our influence through launching, developing and resourcing multiple congregations to reach its city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Robertson described the church on his arrival as “very godly people who had run out of steam.” In 2001, he had planted Murrieta (Calif.) Valley Community Church through assistance from the North American Mission Board, remaining there for 14 years. The Louisiana native then returned to his home state, but it was too late.
“My heart was in California,” he said.
Robertson had not initially planned to make any immediate, wholesale changes to HBC upon his arrival. The congregation was aging, and his predecessor, Gerald Squyres, had been there for half a century. A quick study confirmed that plans needed to change, however.
“I told everyone that I couldn’t grow the church numerically. That’s God’s business,” he said. “But we can get to work and use the entire property to reach people. If God blesses it, then we can revitalize this church.”
Today, four other congregations meet on HBC’s campus. Ministerios HB and HBChurch/Korean reach out to their respective ethnic bases. The Garage connects with SoCal’s biker culture, while The Daily Church, its newest congregation, focuses on the next generation.
While the congregations are their own, they work together, “like a collective,” Robertson said. “We’re training church planters and planting churches. Some are in different languages while others reach particular demographics, but we’re all Southern Baptist church plants.” The Daily Church, for instance, meets Sunday evenings but includes students who also participate and even lead at HBC in the morning.
The Wentworths’ introduction to HBC came in the 1990s. Duane had been baptized as a 10-year-old at a non-denominational church, but wandered away. Cindy was born and raised Catholic. In their adult lives they had gotten along fine without God, or so they thought.
The death of Cindy’s 8-year-old nephew from leukemia shook them. His funeral was held at HBC, their first time to visit, and the couple continued to attend due to the love and ministry they felt from the congregation. Cindy’s extended family began attending as well, with several of them literally joining her and Duane on the day Squyres baptized them. With several grown adults in the baptistry, the choir below received a splash as each was placed beneath the water and raised to new life.
While each took leadership roles in the church, HBC eventually began struggling. Many, including the Wentworths, stepped away for a season, save for attending the occasional funeral. One day Cindy’s sister, who was battling cancer and had kept her membership, asked Cindy for a ride to church. Duane joined them for what was to be one of Robertson’s first sermons as pastor.
“He has really taught us about the Bible, how we’re to go out and talk to people,” said Cindy, who also is the church’s pastoral assistant. “We’re to be bold for Christ; that’s our purpose for being here.”
Duane credited how Robertson is leading HBC and its model of five congregations. “He’s not a micromanager,” he said, “but letting the other churches do things their own way.”
The churches on HBC’s campus often plan and conduct their own events and outreach activities, with members from others joining in. Those include food giveaways, car shows, Taco Tuesdays and the highly-popular drive-through prayer station.
Those efforts paved the way for connecting with the community while walking a tight line on California state COVID restrictions. Last year HBC baptized 13 people, its largest number in 11 years.
“The way to revitalize a church is to reach lost people,” Robertson said. “Nothing will change the feeling of a church more than someone getting baptized.”