California church offers rest to road-weary commuters
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Brentwood is a place to live. But the California city isn’t exactly a place for life.
People struggle to find jobs in Brentwood or neighboring Antioch. So, they work closer to San Francisco.
Brentwood empties out around 5 a.m. every day as people make the long commute to work. Those same workers don’t get home until seven or eight o’clock at night. Therefore, the other needs and wants of life become a real challenge.
“They’re not ready to do much of anything but sit on their couch,” said Dennis Davis, referring to people who leave for work in the early-morning hours. “The whole area is what I would call a transit community.”
Even so, Davis, who started The Dwelling Place in Brentwood in August 2021, knows why God gave him that name for the church. Psalm 91 says the Lord, the Most High, is a dwelling place for his people.
For people spending hours on the road and hours more working, Davis wants them to know God as their dwelling place. He hopes they realize God is the one to go to for rest and help.
“People are flying out of churches in droves,” he said. “We’ve got to have multiple pathways into the church to reach all these people.”
He said people around Brentwood aren’t leaving the church or avoiding worship because they’re atheists. Instead, he said they’re apathetic. They don’t have much of an appetite for following Christ or becoming a disciple, much less a leader in the church.
“It’s so difficult to get people to come to church,” he said. “This is a hard, hard area to pastor.”
Many people are disconnected from God and the church. But such pain and defeat have become part of The Dwelling Place’s vision for engaging the community.
“Our mission is helping broken people find healing, find Jesus and find a place to belong,” he said. “People have been broken inside churches, not just in the world. Now, because of some church hurt, they’re sitting at home instead of doing the work of the Lord.”
Not for long, though, if Davis gets the chance to serve these members of his community.
Davis began The Dwelling Place as a Bible study in 2015. In 2019, God led Davis to look for churches and Christian organizations to be partners. He didn’t want to be in a denomination. However, he was praying and looking for deep connections to form with a group of churches.
That’s how he met Converge PacWest board chairman Damon Owens, Converge PacWest director of Church Planting Chris Lovelace and Converge PacWest regional president Bernard Emerson.
“When I met these people, it was like a light bulb went off in my spirit. These are kindred spirits,” he said. “A lot of time pastors out here can be territorial. But when I met these guys from Converge, it was like, ‘We’re all in this together.’ This is all about the kingdom of God.”
The next step for The Dwelling Place came directly through one of Converge’s strengths: helping church plants thrive in God’s mission to make disciples who make disciples. Converge’s 10 districts have a goal of planting 312 churches in the next five years. The PacWest set a goal for itself of planting 25 churches by 2026.
So, Davis went through Converge’s church planting assessment process for people starting new churches. Converge worked with Davis to help The Dwelling Place develop a new mission, vision and logo.
About the only thing that stayed the same was the church’s name. That’s because Davis envisioned a dwelling place for people whose living drains their life.
The Dwelling Place relaunched on August 8, 2021. Davis and Converge leaders have strengthened the church to reach people with a ministry fit for people’s lives.
“One of the things that Converge has helped me to recognize is some of the things we were doing previously aren’t for this area.” he said. “We needed to shift our model more toward what people need today.”
That led to reflections on using digital technology and thinking outside the box.
“The message never changes,” Davis said. “The methods do. We’ve got to have multiple ways to reach the community.”
Davis jokes he enrolled himself in ‘the University of YouTube.’ The Dwelling Place had no digital presence. That meant updating their website. But he also started creating Facebook videos five days a week and worship online on Sundays.
He now has worshipers not only inside The Dwelling Place’s building, but from all over the country through their online broadcasts.
The building where The Dwelling Place worships demonstrates just how much God wants to give rest to the road weary.
Before The Dwelling Place relaunched in August, they were meeting in another location. But the rent price became unsustainable after two years in that location. So, Davis’ wife, Annette, who works as a real estate agent, began searching for a commercial property to rent.
The church didn’t find a place in six months of searching. So, the church rented two moving trucks and a team gathered to help empty out the previous rental property. The only option left was worshiping in the Davis’ home.
“All of a sudden, I get a call,” Davis said. He was standing in the parking lot surrounded by the people ready to load the trucks.
The man on the phone owned a property they’d considered months before. Negotiations didn’t succeed because the owner wanted to charge rent and have something other than a church. However, on moving day, the owner asked if they were still interested.
“I would rather a church be there than it sit empty,” he told Davis while the volunteers began loading the church’s property into the trucks.
The owner said he had a friend at the building right then. That friend could show Davis around if he wanted to hurry to the site.
“I said, ‘I’ll be there in 10 minutes,” Davis recalled. “I told the members, ‘Keep loading the truck. I’m going to go down and look at this building and be back’.”
He didn’t want to tell them how excited he was. And he didn’t know how excited he was about to become.
When Davis got there, the owner’s friend was there and handed Davis the keys after just a minute or two.
“Where’s the lease agreement?” Davis asked.
“My buddy told me to go ahead and let you in,” the man told Davis. “Here’s the keys. The building is yours as long as you need it.”
Elation still fills Davis’ voice and heart as he tells the story.
The whole drive back to the moving crew, Davis was rejoicing and more excited than he imagined possible. When he told his brothers and sisters in the Lord, they responded with rejoicing of their own.
“There was so much praising, it was just ridiculous,” he said. “We just came in [to the building] and started praising God and blessed the building. We’ve been there ever since. It’s been meeting all our needs.”
Having a building for digital ministry and in-person gatherings has offered broken, busy and worn-out people the dwelling place they need.
“How can we find those people and let them know there’s a safe place where they can get the healing they need and find Christ?”
He answers his own question by telling the church almost every week the message of Psalm 91: The Lord is our dwelling place. It is he who covers his people and gives them refuge.
As the new Brentwood church applies the lessons of digital ministry and adapts to the community’s needs, more and more people can find the refuge of Christ. 5 a.m. won’t be too early for the God who is always with them.
Which means 8 p.m. isn’t too late to rest in him, even while sitting on the couch in an online Bible study.
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.