At a time when many people find it difficult to ponder much beyond their own day-to-day survival, Real Life Church in Valencia launched what organizers call a two-year "generosity initiative" that asked congregants to consider new, different, creative ways to improve the quality of their own lives and help others in the community who are in need.
The initiative started Feb. 26 with an open, rhetorical question, and the ensuing brainstorming and discussion was designed to encourage out-of-the-box thinking, responses and action, said Steve Meyers (pictured above), student ministry pastor of the church on Newhall Ranch Road.
"We've been asking this question, 'What if...?' about all sorts of different things," he said. "What if Christians actually loved Jesus and followed God and were real in their faith? What would that mean?"
The question extended to family: "What if parents really got involved in their kids' lives and really invested in communicating with them and knowing them and not letting them raise themselves?" Meyers said.
And then to church and community: "What if the church really looked into the community and said, 'We want to help meet needs'? What if we were able to partner with nonprofit organizations like A Light of Hope or an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter or Help the Children or Single Mothers Outreach? What if we could really, really invest in them — what could happen?" Meyers said.
The "What if"? discussions have taken place at the church, during services, gatherings of church youth and outreach groups, among customers at the open-to-the-public Undergrounds coffee house on the church's ground floor, and other recent community events in which the church and its members have participated.
"It's been exciting to hear a lot of people talk about all the 'what ifs' and it's generated a lot of energy and excitement as to what we can all do if we partner together in this community," Meyers said. "It's not just about Real Life Church, it's about us living together in the community and loving one another and helping each other, so we can (live) a life that God has created us to live and wants us to enjoy and experience."
The discussions resulted in four proposed projects — one for the community and the other three to expand and improve the Real Life campus — that the church would like to work on over the next two years, depending on funding and, in some cases, city building permits, said Steve Whitney, New Life's director of ministry.
"Part of what the 'What If?' campaign will do is generate funds for our ongoing ministry budget, so it's going to help us keep everything running for the next two years as kind of the baseline, and then over and above that, we have these four additional project we're looking at," Whitney said.
The community project is the one Real Life members are most excited about, he said.
"We're looking at leasing some property in Newhall and creating a nonprofit hub for many of the organizations that are already established here in Santa Clarita, such as Lutheran Social Services, Single Mothers Outreach, A Light of Hope, and several others operating in the valley," Whitney said. "They're independent from us, but they're just doing a lot of good things here in the community.
"Our idea was to create some office space where they could rent at a very nominal fee, and then the synergy of them being under the same roof to create some connections and kind of a service hub for the whole community," he said.
"We would sponsor it and fund the initial build-out of it and then the small amount of rent would help us with maintenance and upkeep," Whitney said. "But it would give them a great space to operate out of, and enhance their ability to do what they do by giving them cheap office space and a good opportunity to connect with other nonprofits that operate in the city at the same time. And we would then probably use it on the weekends as well, possibly having a small service there or doing some additional kinds of community service outreach operations out of that hub."
Word of the proposed nonprofit hub project in Newhall has started leaking to the community, Whitney said. "We've already had a ton of nonprofits contact us about their interest in that, so I think that's a real winner. That's why I said it's the thing we're most excited about."
The other three proposed projects are contingent on city approval of plans as well as budget, "and would help us keep rolling so we can keep doing what we're doing," he said.
"We're going to try to build out the parking lot in front of our building on property, but we don't have approval from the city yet. We're still working on the details," Whitney said. "And we're going to try to convert our (outdoor) amphitheater area into a more usable space. We're going to do some coverings and make it so it's more usable on a regular basis."
The fourth and largest piece of the two-year project would be a 25,000-square-foot addition on the west side of the Real Life campus, again, contingent on city permits. "That would (provide) some additional children's room as well as additional meeting space," Whitney said. "So those are the four things we're looking to accomplish over the next two years."
Real Life Church is located at 23841 Newhall Ranch Road, Valencia 91355. For more information, phone 661-775-7401 or visit www.reallifechurch.org .
Photos: Stephen K. Peeples.