By Stephen K. Peeples
Rusty George, as lead pastor for the Real Life Church in Valencia since 2003, has assembled like-spirited staff and built an entire faith-based community around the church that’s involved in all kinds of community outreach that makes a positive difference in the Santa Clarita Valley.
George does it not for fame or fortune, but because it’s his calling, and that’s why he’s AM 1220 KHTS’s latest Santa Clarita Unsung Hero, brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.
A graduate of Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo., George was Age Level Director at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., when he was contacted 10 years ago by longtime friend Kyle Idleman and by Debbie Rutherford, pastors who had founded Real Life Church in Valencia in 2001, meeting in a converted movie theater. George and Idleman, Real Life’s founding lead pastor, had grown up in the same town in Kansas, attended the same church and schools. Idleman was about to move on to another church and thought of George.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you come out here to Santa Clarita and help us continue this work at Real Life?’ George told AM 1220 KHTS’s Jason Endicott during an on-air interview Feb. 28. “It seemed very interesting to me, (I was) very excited. My wife and I spent some time praying about it and decided this is what we're supposed to do, and made the move in June of 2003.”
In the near-decade since, the church has grown by leaps and bounds, building faith-based programs for different age, gender and interest groups, and bouncing from location to location, until finally three years ago, the congregation built and moved into the first LEED-certified church building in the city, on Newhall Ranch Road near Bridgeport Park. Real Life now serves approximately 5,000 people each weekend at five identical services between Friday night and Sunday night.
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Endicott remarked he’d never been in a church that had amenities like Real Life’s outdoor amphitheater and the Undergrounds coffee shop.
“We don’t look like a church,” George said. “It goes back to our theater days — we found so many people connecting to us because we did not look like a church. Because we were in a movie theater, they knew what to expect, they weren't nervous about it. They came in, they saw that it's a ‘come as you are’ kind of place, casual dress, contemporary music, relevant topics. They thought, ‘I can do this.’”
George said church leaders wanted to keep the same flavor when they finally built their own place of worship.
“So it does not look like a church,” he said. “Many people think it's a hockey rink because it's got a dome in the back of it. It's half-underground, which makes it a very unique building, especially in California. Theater seating, cup holders, coffee house — coffee is encouraged to bring into the auditorium, it helps keep people awake while I'm talking – and it just creates a very fun atmosphere.”
In the past year, as part of a two-year campaign called “What If?,” the church has made some improvements to its campus, and added awnings to the outdoor amphitheater and more parking.
But the most important component of the “What If?” campaign is its community outreach.
“We were noticing some alarming things in our community,” George said. “One was the problem with drug addiction, particularly with high school students, and we just felt like, you know what, this issue is not a government issue. It's not an education issue. It's a church issue. The church is supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, so we should step up and do something about that.”
George said Real Life leaders also wanted to address the downward trend in church attendance.
“Despite the fact that there are churches meeting in schools and that kind of thing around our valley, there's not many people going to church,” he said. “In fact, the statistics were about 15 percent of our community actually attends (a) weekend service. We felt like our community would be a whole lot better if more people have the chance to attend church, so we thought, ‘Let's add space, let's create more opportunities, and let's do something about this drug problem.’
“And so we started ‘What If?.’ basically saying, ‘What if we got involved and made a difference?’ and ‘What if we dialed up our generosity for a period of two years and made an impact?’ So, over the course of the last year, we've been able to outfit the amphitheater, add more seats, add more services.
A related initiative, dubbed “Savia,” directly aids a trio of nonprofit groups that have proven their value to Santa Clarita Valley residents. The church has acquired space in downtown Newhall that will have a multipurpose use.
“That allows us to take some non-profits and give them a collaborative space, bringing them together — one of which is A Light of Hope, which is tackling the drug issue in our community, Single Mothers Outreach, (and the) Domestic Violence Center — and let them share some space (for) much cheaper rent and allow them to make a bigger impact in our city,” George said. “We can also hold services there on the weekend when it's done.”
He added that the church’s Spanish-speaking service, Vida Real, will move from the Valencia campus to the Savia space, which the church expects to be in by the end of April.
“’Savia’ simply means the life blood of a tree,” George said. “We're viewing this as we're planting this there to bring life to that community.”
For Real Life Church members, our community extends to all corners of the globe. In the past year, members have traveled on aid missions to India, Peru, China, the Dominican Republic and Uganda.
“(The missions) accomplish so much,” George said. “First of all, it helps us all that go to get our mind off of ourselves and recognize how blessed we really are to live here in the United States. It also helps us to accomplish the greater goal of reaching out to help those less fortunate. To be able to go to India and build an orphanage and a well, and a church, was a great thing that we got to participate in, as well as partnering with kids and helping provide surgeries for kids over in China who are in desperate need, as well as Uganda.”
Real Life has been going to Uganda the longest; George went during the past year. (He's pictured with Monica, one of the villagers there.)
“We've been partnered with Uganda now for probably about six years,” he said, “We've built two different orphanages there. One is a Children's Village, which not only houses children, but educates them. We partnered with a great organization called Children of the Nations, and their philosophy is, ‘Let's raise up the future leaders of these countries, rather than just help kids and then adopt them out. Let's train them how to change their country.’ And I really believe in the next 10-20 years we're going to see the result of that.”
George was enthusiastic about Real Life Church’s Easter-related events coming up at the end of the month.
“We start our services Friday night and we'll have two services Friday, three on Saturday, four on Sunday, and we're actually going to have a special guest with us participating in our service -- Joe Castillo, who is from ‘America's Got Talent.’ He was the sand art guy, ‘The Sandman,’ as we call him. He’s a former pastor, and will be performing at our service. Those services are going to be just a phenomenal time to connect with what's going on at Real Life, especially with the message of Easter. There'll be great stuff for the kids. We're bringing in a giraffe the kids can interact with, a petting zoo for the preschool age kids.
“And then the following week, we're interviewing former Lakers legend A.C. Green,” George said. “He'll be with us for all of our services and it’ll be just be a fun time to not only hear his story, but (also) for people to interact with him.”
George invites people who are interested in Real Life Church to start with its website at www.reallifechurch.org .
“You can actually watch one of our services online,” he said. “There's also information on there, not just what to expect, and the main thing is just to come check out a service. All of our service times are on there, Saturday night at 5 p.m., Sunday morning 8:30, 10, 11:30, and then Sunday night at 5 p.m. They're all identical services. It is a casual, come as you are kind of place. You don't have to have the Bible memorized or wear a suit. Just roll in, grab a cup of coffee, relax and connect.”
Watch Rusty George’s complete interview with AM-1220 KHTS afternoon drive air personality Jason Endicott on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, and learn more about this Santa Clarita Unsung Hero’s good deeds. You can also download the audio podcast .
Read more of KHTS's Santa Clarita Unsung Heroes features  brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.
Mercedes-Benz of Valencia is proud to be part of the Santa Clarita Valley, not only giving you the superior customer service you deserve, but also giving back to our community by supporting our schools, sports teams, Sheriff's Station and nonprofit organizations. Now, Mercedes-Benz of Valencia and KHTS  have teamed up to present "Santa Clarita's Unsung Heroes," a special feature spotlighting local residents who make a difference in our valley. With new contributions also comes a new Mercedes management team. Visit Mercedes-Benz of Valencia today.
• Article: Rusty George Of Real Life Church Named A Santa Clarita Unsung Hero 
• Article Source: Mercedes-Benz of Valencia -- Santa Clarita Unsung Hero 
• Author: Stephen K. Peeples 
Photos of Rusty George, the congregation and Monica courtesy Real Life Church; all others by Stephen K. Peeples.