Spirit Emphasis Spurs Growth

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In Bakersfield, California, Discovery Church is drawing people as diverse as the city is in ethnicity and age, and is planting congregations that reflect the moving of the Holy Spirit.

“There hasn’t been a Sunday where multiple people didn’t commit to Christ and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior,” says Jason T. Hanash, 38, the pastor who founded the church four years ago.

Hanash, whose father is Arabic, served as executive pastor at Lifehouse Church in North Bakersfield. He says he felt comfortable in that assignment — until the Lord called him to step out and plant.

With support from Lifehouse, Hanash, his wife, Veronica, and three other families met in a living room in December 2012 to share the vision for a new congregation. By February, the group had outgrown the home and scrambled for space.

Hanash targeted southwest Bakersfield, where unreached young families and millennials live. Since its beginning, the church has grown 40 to 90 percent in size every year, and today averages more than 1,200 people on Sundays. This is in spite of often-cramped quarters and no air conditioning in the early going.

Discovery welcomes the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, which Hanash attributes as a key factor in growth.

“It is important to have a church full of God’s power, glory, and presence, and signs and wonders,” Hanash says. “But I want it to be organized and effective on every level. The gifts can live together in beautiful harmony, supporting and submitting to one another. I love the power and presence of God to be demonstrated in our environment.”

From the start, the congregation has been multiethnic, reflecting Bakersfield’s diverse population. In the past two years, Discovery also has become multigenerational after deliberately praying for older people to join. The staff includes African-American, Mexican, Filipino and white people, and the leadership team is made up of three men and two women.

Hanash believes that building multisite churches is the most effective way to reach the lost. Discovery operates four campuses and is launching another later this year. The first, Discovery Camarillo, opened in the Ventura area two hours away over a mountain range, with Matthew A. Delgadillo as pastor.

“That location was not on our list at all, but we believe the Holy Spirit was leading us to do it,” Hanash says. “God opened doors no one could open, and gave us a building worth $2 million.”

Several families received ministry training, then transplanted from Bakersfield and launched the church on Easter last year. Today, the congregation draws more than 60.

Discovery’s other three campuses are in Bakersfield. One is Spanish-speaking. Hanash’s intent is to “raise up leaders indigenous to their communities and allow pastors to reach their potential in their calling,” he says.

The church continues to use the SoCal Network process of assessments and coaching offered through the Church Multiplication Network. Discovery Church Camarillo is an AGTrust CMN Matching Fund church. The newest Discovery Church in downtown Bakersfield is also a CMN Matching Fund church, led by campus pastor Pete Gutierrez.

Mario M. Lopez, 42, associate pastor, and wife, Monica A. Lopez, 38, served as small group leaders who helped Hanash start Discovery.

“The prophetic gifting, words of knowledge, and gifts of healing happen on Sunday morning in altar ministry at the end of every service,” Mario says.

Every city where a Discovery church is launched also will include a Dream Center. In October, the main campus opened its first Dream Center and already has rescued two women from sex trafficking, offered youth internships, food, clothing, and overnight care to kids on the streets living in hotels with mothers who had been sexually exploited. Discovery Church also provides resources to the homeless and has helped transition six homeless people into housing.

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