Revitalizing the Heart of Sacramento
At the historic Crest Theatre just blocks from California’s state capitol, Project Church is attracting a new generation of young professionals, the so-called “de-churched” and “unchurched” in the city’s urban center.
“There hadn’t been a new church downtown in years, and there were all these young people,” says Pastor Caleb D. Cole, 36. “We felt that the city was on the cusp of a resurgence, and there needed to be a spiritual resurgence, too.”
Cole is the grandson of the late Glen D. Cole, longtime pastor of Capital Christian Center, a flagship congregation in Northern California (Caleb’s uncle, Rick J. Cole is the current pastor). Glen asked a 12-year-old Caleb at the altar of a Sunday morning service what he heard the Lord saying to him. Caleb said he sensed he would one day be a pastor.
While attending Central Bible College and later Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, Caleb met Chrissy, who had similar goals. They married, and after two years pastoring in Massachusetts, moved to Sacramento to join Glen on staff at Trinity Life Center. Eighteen months later, Glen died unexpectedly.
“It was a gift to be with him every day for his last eighteen months,” Caleb Cole says. “I learned a lot during that season.”
Drawn strongly to the heart of Sacramento, Caleb and Chrissy, also 36, began praying about planting a church in the capital city of the largest U.S. state. At the time, people were fleeing downtown, and it looked as though the city would lose its beloved NBA basketball team, the Kings. Still, the Coles and half a dozen other couples planted Project Church in 2012.
Every couple in their first small group included a white man and a nonwhite woman (Chrissy is Filipina). Today the church remains less than half white — and it is young. The average age of attendees is just 28, and many are single and highly mobile due to careers. Others are state workers who live downtown — as well as a number of homeless people from a nearby park.
“It’s an eclectic mix of people, and a diverse mix of races because that’s what Sacramento looks like,” Cole says. “It feels like heaven.”
Many are what Cole calls the de-churched — those who have drifted from a former connection at a place of worship.
“We felt like were supposed to come here and remind people that there’s a God in heaven, He knows what’s best for them, and He is the way, the truth, and the life,” Cole says.
The church also draws “strong women” because of the way Caleb and Chrissy co-pastor together.
“Women feel they have a voice in our church,” says Chrissy.
In five years, 2,000 people have committed their lives to Christ at Project, and more than 500 have been baptized in water. The church draws around 450 on Sunday mornings. Downtown, instead of falling further into disrepair, has received a billion dollars of public and private money for revitalization in the past decade, by some estimates. A new sports arena for the Kings (who remain in Sacramento) was built in 2016 and is a 9-minute walk from the church.
“It feels like God positioned us to reach the younger generation and be in the heart of the city,” Caleb says.
In 2015, Project launched a campus in West Sacramento, which is 8 miles and a world away across the Sacramento River. Project Church West Sacramento meets in a new elementary school and draws young families. It also is diverse, with Asians representing around a quarter of attendees, according to Loren M. Zamora, the 29-year-old campus pastor.
“Having a church that’s part of the community makes a big difference to people,” Zamora says.
As with the downtown campus, many attendees had drifted from faith and are now coming back.
The Coles appreciate the equipping they received from the Church Multiplication Network.
“CMN was a huge blessing and one of the biggest advantages I had,” Caleb says. “I have encouraging relationships with young AG pastors planting through CMN that I can relate to and bounce ideas off of. We’re all doing it differently. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”