Our first stop on the search took us to Kaleo Church that meets at the AMC 20 in the Mission Valley Mall. Obviously, this being the first one we’ve visited it was pretty high on our list of places to explore.
And we weren’t disappointed. Parking is a non-issue obviously. The location is easy enough to get to and was just 1.4 miles from the hotel. I think this campus would be roughly 10 miles from our new house… so a little far for our liking. But they also do something closer to us on the campus of San Diego State University that we may want to check out as well.
I don’t really have a format to these “reviews,” so I am making it up.
First impressions. I kind of dig the movie theater thing. Reminds me of Granger when it first started. It’s informal and comfortable to me. I could see myself easily inviting people to a movie theater. We were greeted by a few official greeter people and since we were awkwardly early for SoCal (15 minutes before service) there was absolutely no one in the auditorium! Thankfully Kate [wicked good violinist] was uber friendly and showed us where to take the kids. Boy were the kids happy they didn’t have to sit through the whole service.
They seem pretty confident in their format. I like confidence. While it was odd there was no soft buffer music for those of us who came early, I was perfectly comfortable chilling with Kristen while the countdown clock was on.
The service. It was very chill, but not overly chill in that the people up front came across as unprepared. The service order was very simple. 2-3 songs at the beginning, a message, 1-2 songs at the end with communion pretty much ending things. There were some short announcements at the beginning. But other than that it was a very basic service. Did I miss an offering? If they did it I didn’t notice. The lack of lighting, video, or even mics at times was both cool and different. For this group simplicity worked.
Environmentally I don’t think they take full advantage of the space… but that’s OK and wasn’t annoying. I think their simple style reflects their values without coming across as bland.
I really liked the style of the band though I’d never heard any of the songs. I gathered that a husband/wife team lead the band and we sang originals. Stylistically, I can’t quite label it… Hawaiian maybe? Very cool and raw sound. No production elements whatsoever for worship times. For my comfort level I could have dealt with a little Tomlin or Crowder mixed in, but the worship was… worshipful. So that’s good.
The message. Yikes, I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for the depth. I had listened to parts of a couple of recent messages so I knew I would like the style of the primary preaching elder, David (I think that’s his name.) I liked that the message was designed in a way that acknowledged my intelligence and yet made me think. It was conversational, he even stopped a few times to ask for thoughts. It was very personal to the audience, a few moments he directed certain portions to individuals in the church that a segment applied to. If I had to find something negative it is that it felt a little like a college lecture. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing at all… just an observation.
It was a tough passage (one I’ve always shied away from preaching) so I am not certain if that led to the length of the message… maybe 50 minutes? (Matthew 13) If I were designing the service I’d shoot for a little less preaching, but it seemed like he preached until he was done. The message only felt long at the end when he prayed… FOREVER! (Take that with a grain of salt as I’m trying to be “picky” here. How can you rush prayer?)
I can’t really compare the message to anyone else I’ve heard. Definitely not “feel good, one big idea” like Andy Stanley and not quite “holy cow that’s a lot of stuff” like John Piper. But more leaning towards Piper than Stanley. If I knew more about Mark Driscoll I’d guess it was more like him.
The church. One thing Kristen and I strongly identify with Kaleo is its mission. They are seemingly passionate about reaching the community. I noticed on their website they have a new ministry to exotic dancers as well as a homeless outreach and several other community projects. I liked feeling as though I could likely contribute something to Kaleo if God wanted us to partner with them.
One thing I like is that Kaleo is a church plant of the Acts 29 network. While I don’t think we’re 100% exactly matching their theology… it is quite solid. If we proceed I’m going to really understand their position on women [not] in ministry as well as a couple other positional differences. But no deal breakers that I know of. But I know a couple other Acts 29 planters and a little bit of networking goes a long way to gaining credibility in my world.
Kids ministry. Being selfish parents… kids ministry is pretty important to us. It was a big deal that the kids both wanted to go back. Megan asked several times throughout the day if we could go back to that church. “I know we want to look at a few churches before we decide, but I really liked the people there.” Megan even told me “it was awesome” during lunch. She is a pretty shy girl, so she must have really connected with the leaders and kids to say that.
Paul… he was bored and hungry when we picked him up. It’s no surprise he was hungry as he’s always hungry. And I don’t think he was really all that bored. When I asked him later in the day if he’d like to go back to the “movie theater church” he asked if he could go back and told me he really liked it there. One thing they both liked was that the kids got to come into “big church” for the worship portion of the service. I also noticed that most of the parents seemed to go get their kids and bring them to the end of the service with them… we’d probably do that again.
Overall. Kristen and I really liked what we saw. From a first impression standpoint we really dug the service and it made us curious about the church. We will definitely come back when we move out in a few weeks and give it a second look. I’d be quite interested to see how school starting effects both the attendance and demographics of the congregation. I think there were about 100-150 people in the service this morning. (I could have been WAY off too as Kristen and I sat about 5 rows to the front.) Age wise, we’re in our early 30s with kids… and we felt a little high on the age radar. I felt like we could definitely connect with some of the other couples, maybe even get involved somehow in mentoring the engaged/young marrieds. The young demographic is not a bad thing at all! It was also noticeable that they don’t have any student ministry of any kind. 10 years as a youth pastor and that stuck out like a sore thumb. At the same time, if you aren’t ready for student ministry it’s best to just allow someone who is to do that. With that said my mind started to wander and wonder… “I bet they could do a service at the same time for high schoolers.”
As Kristen and I made our way to the food court after church we both agreed, Kaleo’s service was definitely heartfelt and decidedly not fake. That’s a great impression to leave on two “battle tested” church staffers. We’ve been inside the walls enough at church to smell fake.
Follow-up. I filled out the card and talked to someone after the service. Actually, I thought it was cool that a couple of other new people introduced themselves to us. They just moved here from Texas and have been going to Kaleo about a month… that conversation awkwardly died… but yeah, it was cool new people said hello to newer people. So I’ll just wait and see if/what we get for follow-up.