The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the lowest percentages of church going people in the U.S. According to a study in 2013 by the Barna Group, church attendance is 30% lower in the Bay Area than average attendance in the U.S. But that may be changing. God is working in the lives of people in Silicon Valley.
A growing number of entrepreneurs and longtime business executives are building their businesses on biblical principles. Churches are engaging in meaningful service projects. And Christian-based non-profit organizations are serving the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.
Significantly, there may be the beginning of a spiritual movement afoot as evidenced by a group called “Transforming the Bay Area with Christ” or TBC. TBC is coalition of business leaders, venture capitalists, pastors, and non-profit leaders, focused on helping to develop grass roots activity that will transform the Bay Area through social compassion and service. TBC hosts meetings approximately every four months.
TBC had its first event in early 2013 and has had five subsequent gatherings. The most recent meeting on January 10, 2015 at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View attracted over 800 people. TBC is the brainchild of Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware. Gelsinger noticed the impact that compassion and service can have on a community while he lived in Portland. Churches in Portland put denominational differences aside to cooperate with city leaders, business professionals, and other community leaders to meet vital local needs. Gelsinger and TBC hope to see the same thing happen in the Bay Area.
In his presentation at the January meeting, Gelsinger noted that the Bay Area is the richest region in the country and the most influential with its emphasis on innovation and high technology. At the same time, the Bay Area has one of the lowest percentages of committed Christians and church attenders in the nation, and ranks near the bottom in the U.S. in per capita charitable giving. One of the reasons for the low charitable giving Gelsinger cited is the weakness of the church – often the center of charitable giving in many cultures.
Gelsinger noted that “this area with all its wonderful things, still experiences brokenness.” He cited high crime rates, poor schools, and homelessness that are as bad as or worse than other areas in the country. Gelsinger says that it was out of this brokenness — economic, educational, and spiritual — that the idea for TBC was formed to help bring about healing and restoration.
TBC has three primary areas of focus it labels “unify”, “amplify” and “multiply.” By “unify” TBC intends to facilitate the networking of Christian leaders in business, education, non-profits, and the church to make a difference in the Bay Area. Steve Clifford, the senior pastor of Westgate Church, noted that when he became a pastor 23 years ago, “I was shocked to find out that pastors don’t play well together.” But he said, “It is Christ’s prayer and God’s will that that will change.”
It is evident that change is happening. Several pastors attend TBC events, including the recent meeting. Clifford announced upcoming gatherings of pastors on topics from the arts to preaching, and asked pastors to identify existing networks of pastors in which they participate.
“Amplify” represents the goal to serve the needs in the community. Jon Talbert is leading this effort. He commented that several churches already engage in many compassionate acts of service. But to bring focus to these various service efforts, he suggested that all participating churches make a concerted effort to coordinate those activities in the month of April.
“Multiply” represents TBC’s goal to expand the number of churches in the Bay Area. TBC hopes to facilitate the opening of 1,000 new churches over the next ten years. Funding will come from other churches, individuals, and church planting organizations like Stadia. The first new church plant was announced at the meeting. As an example of cooperation among churches, funding for the new church came from five local churches. To help entrepreneurial pastors start and grow churches, TBC plans to help facilitate the building of an ecosystem, much like those found in high tech accelerators, to include experienced pastors and business people.
Although 1,000 seems like a daunting number, there is evidence that this is beginning to happen. In my research, I have found several major churches starting or planning to start new churches. Those churches include South Bay Church, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Westgate Church, and Venture Christian. In addition, CityTeam through its Disciple Making Movements (see Pat Robertson’s story) has helped start 500-600 home churches of 10-50 participants. In addition, small group gatherings of Christians — what one might even call such gatherings “churches” — are popping up at several Silicon Valley companies.
John Ortberg, Senior Pastor at Menlo Presbyterian Church in a 2014 sermon commented:
I’m thrilled to see the spirit of unity and partnership and shared vision that’s been evident in TBC. I don’t want to put the wrong kind of weight on it by over-promising prematurely, but I think TBC reflects a great hunger for Christians and ministry leaders to be part of something greater than themselves and even their own particular organizations. We’ll need to leave lots of space to see how God leads and how things unfold.
What most excites me about TBC is its concrete vision for how a movement of spiritual renewal could touch the Bay Area, and the breadth of response by so many people who are hungry for it.
Tom Steipp, longtime business leader and CEO of Liquid Engines, and a TBC participant, comments:
What is special about TBC is its intentionality to build on the success in Portland and New York City. It starts with the relationships among pastors, business leaders, and non-profits and builds on a shared vision while leaving tactical activities to people in regional areas around the Bay. There is an emphasis on prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit to prepare the way for whatever God chooses to do.
I will keep readers informed about TBC and more specifically about how churches, individuals, and non-profit organizations are serving Christ in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.
If you want to be on the TBC email list for future activities, go to: Connect to TBC.