Orange County may be known for its sun-splashed beaches, idyllic homes, and even large churches but that doesn’t stop a pastor in charge of planting a Seattle sister church in Orange County from describing the So Cal area in bleak terms.
“I believe God has called me to one of the darkest places in America,” Pastor Nick Bogardus, who is from the highly attended Mars Hill Church based in Seattle, stated in a video with the Orange County landscape as a backdrop.
Bogardus doesn’t mince words in the YouTube and church site video announcing plans for Mars Hill’s newest church campus.
“It is a place marked by a massive population, but where people are not really known,” he said. “A vast culture of consumption without any kind of genuine fulfillment and a Christianity that often doesn’t have Jesus. I’m talking about Orange County, California.”
Despite being the home to churches with large congregations like Saddleback Church, Mariners Church, and Calvary Chapel, Bogardus has an answer to those pointing to the churches as evidence of plenty of Jesus in Orange County.
“My response would be that combined, those churches have just over 50,000 people. There are 3.2 million people in Orange County. There are far more people who need Jesus,” he noted.
“Some sociologists call California an exaggerated America. What happens in California – particularly in LA and OC – is like the rest of America, only more so. What happens in this region is not only reflective of the rest of American culture, it shapes American culture. It is a potent expression.”
The Mars Hill pastor explained that Orange County is part of the region marked by explosive growth during the Gold Rush and the Post-WWII era. “Both times, people left structures that traditionally gave people identity – things like family, community, and career, and they came in search of fortune, freedom, a new start. They came in search of an identity. In fact, the California Tourism Board's brand slogan, the tool they use to attract people from around the world to vacation in California, is ‘Find Yourself Here.’
“So, the legacy is a region marked by a culture of consumerism, individualism, pluralism, and mobility.”
Although Bogardus comes most recently from Seattle, he grew up in Orange County and said his heart is for the people here.
“We have been warmly welcomed by other churches in Orange County, especially by some of the biggest. Pastors know the size and scope of the work and they know the more workers in the field, the better,” he said. “We are really excited to get in the trenches with, and learn from, faithful churches that have been down there for years and decades.”
Bogardus describes the “culture at large” in Orange County as having compartmentalized lives or a “salad bar religion.”
“Ultimately we live life like Facebook, with different selves for different people or scenarios. A work self, a home self, a church self, a relationship self, it is a relentless search for identity that ultimately, as theologian David Wells puts it, hollows people out,” he observed.
“It hollows people out and it isolates them. It is entirely possible, in a place like Orange County with a population of 3.2 million, to be surrounded by large numbers of people and be completely unknown.”
Currently, Mars Hill Church Orange County is meeting periodically as “community meetings” in various locations. The church plans to officially open in January. More than 650 people came to a recent pre-launch gathering to hear Mars Hill preaching pastor and founder Mark Driscoll speak on the vision for the Orange County church.
Mars Hill Church currently has nine locations and has more than 10,000 people in attendance on Sundays. The Orange County church will be the third plant outside of Washington. Albuquerque was planted last year. Plans call for Mars Hill Church Portland to open the same day in January.
“Orange County is unique though in that it is the first campus plant we've done that is thousands of miles from Seattle with no existing church body or sent core group. It is entirely from scratch,” Bogardus said.
“Ultimately, I am passionate about seeing Jesus save people and change hearts. In Orange County that looks like seeing people freed from the slavery of isolation to the freedom of being known by God through Jesus. Also, from slavery of religion to the freedom of the Gospel, from the empty pursuit of fulfillment in consumerism to true fulfillment in the gift of God Himself, and from the rootless search for identities to the assurance, joy, and hope that comes with an identity in who Jesus is and what He did for them.”