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A New View for the City

A historic San Diego church looks to retool to meet the changing neighborhood needs.

How does a 95-year-old church reinvent itself? Gradually, by changing culture, adopting a new vision, and making every person feel counted.

In the case of City View Church in San Diego, the transformation has its upside and downside. The good news is that the church has a great location on 9 acres, just off a freeway and overlooking a valley. However, most of the five aging buildings on campus need some sort of refurbishing.

“The church must go through change,” says Troy Singleterry, City View lead pastor. “It’s never easy, but it’s necessary.”

Attendance that had dwindled has started to recover, up to 480 weekly attendees and growing. Plus, a Spanish-language congregation has been added. But 20 years ago, the 1,200-seat sanctuary used to be close to full.

Last year Singleterry, 46, and key leaders of City View went through four Acts 2  cohorts in an effort to impact their community.

Even before going through the Church Transformation Initiative Acts 2 Journey model, City View developed plans for the Hispanic congregation. Half of the residents of the eighth largest city, located just north of the Mexican border, are Hispanic.

“We are a multigenerational church, but we also need to be a multicultural church, and we’re seeing that start,” Singleterry says.

Last year, Singleterry connected with Pablo and Shirley Torres. The couple published a Spanish-language magazine distributed in public places targeting non-Christians with articles on topics such as health and marriage. Singleterry offered to provide resources and a meeting space for the couple, who have an AG background, to start a congregation.  

The Hispanic body, only six months after launching, is attracting up to 100 attendees — most of them previously unchurched — to Spanish-language Sunday morning services. Families come from a wide geographic area to attend.

“The Lord is orchestrating all the people who are coming in,” says Shirley Torres, 47. “God already laid the groundwork before we ever started. We are amazed at what the Lord is doing.”

Pablo and Shirley both had grandfathers who pastored in Argentina. Pablo, who speaks little English, was born and raised in Argentina. Shirley, although born in Los Angeles, moved with her Argentinian parents back to the South American country during her teenage years, when she met Pablo. At City View Pablo preaches in Spanish and Shirley interprets in English, for young Hispanics more comfortable with English than Spanish as well as for non-Latino spouses who attend with their Hispanic mates.

City View moved to its current location in 1976. Now many neighborhood residents are retirement age and looking to move to smaller residences. In the next decade, there likely will be many additional young families in the area. Known as San Diego First Assembly of God until a year before Singleterry arrived in 2015, City View leaders anticipate a new approach to ministry.

“Before we figure out vision and strategy, we have to decipher culture,” Singleterry says. “We’re trying to create a culture of eternal significance, not temporal satisfaction.” That means competing for the time of residents of “America’s finest city” who are tempted by the Pacific Ocean beaches, one of the world’s largest zoos, or Sea World, among other attractions.

That hang-loose lifestyle isn’t confined to upwardly mobile two-income families. Stevie Nix, City View’s Next Gen pastor, notes that 80 kids are in the church youth program, but there may be a complete turnover from one week to the next. Teens often choose a school-related activity over Wednesday night youth group, or just figure it’s not worth the effort of fighting traffic. That poses a problem in trying to reach Generation Z.

“We have to build relationships and try to understand who they are,” says Nix, 28. “We need to change to attract the younger generation.” For example, the old-school methods of inviting kids to a church event via a flier in the mail these days is wasted money. Youth are more likely to be reached via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Nix is confident that Singleterry will find the right formula, even if that means shaking things up.

“Pastor Troy genuinely cares for people,” Nix says. “He doesn’t hang out in the green room before service. His green room is the church lobby.”

“We honor the legacy of those before us, but we must go forward in faith,” Singleterry says. “We need to stay focused looking through the windshield instead of looking in the rearview mirror all the time. We’re thankful for the past, excited for the present, and believing big things for our future.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.