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Reaching Techies in the Bay

San Francisco church targets millennials working for internet-based behemoths.
Travis B. Clark and wife, Jena, planted Canvas, an Assemblies of God congregation, in downtown San Francisco in 2013 to reach millennials and the tech community. Today, the church draws 400 people per Sunday, many of them with minimal spiritual backgrounds.

“Being around people who are skeptical or don’t believe in God is pretty familiar space for me,” says Travis, who grew up in a family full of skeptics. “Jena and I are wired to live in cities, especially cities where being a person of Christian faith is a minority.”

Canvas, which until recently was in a parent-affiliated relationship with New Life Church, a megachurch located in the suburb of Dublin, meets in a middle school in a wealthier part of San Francisco called the Marina district. The church draws young singles and families who work for industry giants such as Facebook and Google.

The Clarks, both 32, had no prior experience in the City by the Bay. They both grew up in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Arizona. Jena came from a praying family; Travis met the Lord in high school and abandoned the party scene to dive into ministry. He and Jena met as interns at Journey Church in Mesa, married at 19, then served AG congregations in Illinois and Arizona.

“I felt that if I could give my life to anything, it’s building the local church and creating space where wounded and skeptical people like my high school self could find belonging, even before they believe,” says Clark.

Travis and Jena pursued their education though Global University, then felt a particular burden for the Bay Area of California.

“We like environments where people who are shaping the world in massive ways live,” he says. “The startup culture here is shaping the world through their passions every day.”

With the support of the Church Multiplication Network, the Clarks and two dozen people from Mesa uprooted and moved to San Francisco. The Clarks attended a CMN Launch training event, which convinced them into planting the church.

“We were still on the fence when we went,” Clark recalls. “ As we spoke our vision out loud and dreamed more, we began to say this feels right. CMN was catalytic. Without them I’m not sure we would be in San Francisco.”

New Life Church, pastored by Doug Heisel, also is a strategic partner.

“Travis is a young leader uniquely equipped for where he’s headed,” Heisel says. “We could do more together than apart.”

“New Life came behind us relationally and financially, which gave us the proper foundation to start well,” Clark says.

Canvas grew quickly and the team intentionally studied San Francisco’s history and culture in order to relate to people.

“This is a city of people who have clarity of what they want to do,” Clark says. We felt like if we could point people to the full life of Jesus, these world changers would change the world for the sake of a story bigger than themselves. This is an incredible kingdom opportunity in front of us.”

Primarily a millennial church at the beginning, Canvas now draws a growing community of families and plenty of “nones” — people who once left church behind but now are rediscovering faith.

One difficulty is finding space for small groups in a city where many can only afford a studio apartment. Nevertheless, more than half the congregation participates in small groups throughout the week.

Having outgrown its original location, a movie theater, Canvas now meets in a middle school and has created a strong partnership with the school system, which continues to open up relationships. A year ago the church renovated some of the rental facilities, which enabled the school to start new programs.

Joel Kilpatrick

Joel Kilpatrick is a writer living in Southern California who has authored or ghostwritten dozens of books. Kilpatrick, who served as associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1990s, is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister.