Mountain View Voice

News - June 19, 2009

Megachurch outgrows its Mountain View home

Abundant Life Christian Fellowship seeks new space for growing 6,000-member congregation

by Daniel DeBolt

Sunday morning is the busiest time of the week on Leghorn Avenue, when Christians from far and wide pour into every crevice of every parking lot around the big-box stores, auto shops and industrial buildings to attend Abundant Life Christian Fellowship church.

The church moved to Mountain View about four years ago, after a giving its current home, a former plastic wares factory behind Costco, a $12 million transformation that included balcony seating and huge TV monitors behind the pulpit. Today, Abundant Life holds three services every weekend, with each one attended by over a thousand people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, mostly African-American.

Few are late for the gospel music that kicks off every service. Young children are shuttled into kids' rooms, protected by a unique security system involving photo identification and bar codes (a measure to prevent kidnapping). After a professional-quality video presentation of the week's church news, pastor Paul Sheppard steps up to the pulpit.

On May 24, amid words of worship and encouragement, Sheppard told his congregation a bit of surprising news: The church has outgrown even its current location, and will soon need a larger home.

"In order to reach thousands more we're going to have to build one more time," Sheppard said. "In a few weeks the elders will assemble a church committee to search the land" for a new location.

Sheppard said some have asked him, why not "call it quits in terms of trying to reach more people? But that doesn't resonate with me at all. If there are still unsaved people in Northern California, I should not assume God is through."

Charismatic pastor

Originally a pastor in Philadelphia, Sheppard, 51, says that 20 years ago he received a call from God to come to the Bay Area and form a new church, and he answered that call. Setting up shop in Menlo Park with only 34 worshippers, Abundant Life today claims more than 6,000 members in its Mountain View location. The church is in the process of adding a fourth weekend service, which appears to be the maximum that the church can handle.

Abundant Life's recipe for growth involves a certain tolerance for diversity, both ethnic and political. For example, the church does not take political positions on issues such as gay marriage or abortion, because they can be "incredibly divisive," explained assistant pastor Tilden Fang.

Sheppard's message of tolerance and diversity is reinforced in his radio show, "Enduring Truths," which is broadcast over 500 radio stations. He recently wrote a book about improving relationships between diverse churchgoers called "Build a Bridge and Get Over it!" (His popularity is so great that he is requested for speaking engagements at Christian conferences all over the country during the week — which is why, his assistant said, he would be too busy for an interview with the Voice.)

Sheppard's sermons are humorous and sometimes theatrical. On May 24 he talked about how being a Christian was sometimes a struggle requiring that you get up and fight when beaten down. He used boxing as a metaphor, and at one point stretched out on the stage like a knocked-out boxer for dramatic effect, riffing on what must go through a boxer's mind when he's been knocked down on cable TV.

His sermons are memorable, and quotable: "There is nothing worse to me than a weak-kneed, milquetoast man," he said, adding that "I don't let anything get me down and out."

When offering advice for finding a compatible marriage partner, Sheppard said, "If you want to live a thoroughbred life, you can't mate with a mule."

"Don't send me an e-mail," he added. "I meant exactly what I said."

Sheppard's practical lessons draw people from all sorts of backgrounds, which is why, Fang said, "It is not uncommon to find someone with a Ph.D. worshipping next to someone who just got their GED, or someone who just came out of prison," who heard Sheppard on the radio.

The next move

Sheppard says he plans to retire at 65, so he has 14 years to go. He says that "there is no success without succession," which means he is hoping someone will emerge to be the church's next leader. Much is at stake: The church has over 60 different ministries, such as drug and alcohol support groups and marriage counseling programs.

Fang said it was a possibility the church would remain in Mountain View as a "satellite" of a new, larger building leased or built somewhere else. Where exactly the church would set up its new headquarters is uncertain, but Fang noted that land is expensive in Silicon Valley.

Wherever it goes, people are sure to travel to get there. As it is now, churchgoers are drawn from around the larger Bay Area, with some coming from as far as Tracy and Vacaville. Many are from San Francisco and Oakland, and most are from Mountain View, Sunnyvale and East Palo Alto, where the church runs several outreach programs.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Wm C Joseph, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 18, 2009 at 11:10 pm

They might get more land for the money in East Palo Alto?


Posted by NO MORE!!!!, a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2009 at 6:01 pm

OK THIS IS ENOUGH!!! EVERY TIME I WANT TO GO TO COSTCO, THERE ARE SOOOOOO MANY PEOPLE THAT YOU CANNOT GET THROUGH THE DAMN STREET. THESE PEOPLE ARE SO INCONSIDERATE THAT THEY WILL CUT IN FRONT OF YOU (IN THEIR CARS) OR JUST WALK IN FRONT OF YOUR CAR BECAUSE I GUESS GOD SAID IT'S OKAY. YES, I AM GLAD THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO CHURCH INSTEAD OF RUNNING AROUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE.. BUT SERIOUSLY??? CAN'T YOU PEOPLE DO IT IN AN ORDERLY MANNER.. NOT EVERYONE AGREES WITH YOUR CHURCH OR RELIGION SO PLEASE DO THE REST OF US A FAVOR AND MOVE ASIDE AND LET US PASS THROUGH. AND FOR ALL OF YOU PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO THINK THAT I DON'T LIKE GOD OR WHATEVER.. YOU'RE WRONG.. I GO TO CHURCH.. I BELIEVE IN GOD.. THIS CHURCH IS JUST TOO MUCH. IT'S SCARY AND REMINDS ME OF A CULT. KEEP YOUR RELIGION TO YOURSELVES AND STOP TRYING TO "SAVE" PEOPLE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.. I DON'T NEED TO BE SAVED.. I JUST WANT YOU TO GET THE HELL OUTTA MY WAY BECAUSE I NEED SOME GROCERIES!!!!!!!


Posted by Had Enough!, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 22, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I live in the area and have been TRAPPED by these "God Lover's" on Leghorn on Saturday evening and Sunday mornings until 1:45 pm. You cannot get to this area of town without being TRAPPED in your vehicle for AT LEAST 45 minutes. These SELF-RIGHTEOUS people go to church then come out and break almost every traffic law in the book by blockng traffic, jaywalking, you name it! I have called the police but they couldn't care less. Just wait until a medical emergency or fire occur in the area. EMS will NOT be ble to get to the emergency. Clearly the neighborhood was not designed to handle the huge volume of people and vehicles. I cannot believe the city allowed this place to exist here. I have nothing against people going to church. To each his own. But when it negatively affects the residents and neighboring businesses something HAS to be done. The city better NOT ALLOW them to add another service. Find another city that can handle the number of people and vehicles safely.


Posted by Jes' Sayin', a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 22, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Oh when will we have an end to people talking to their Imaginary Friend. Mountain View should sponsor a free showing of Religulous.


Posted by Sick of the traffic!, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 22, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I say good riddance if the church decides to move. Clear out some of that traffic a little.


Posted by Jess, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2009 at 9:30 pm

"You know a towns in trouble when the biggest most populated buildings are the banks and churches"
EA

Don't Bogart the Bong!!
Anthony Cumia as Trick Dick


Posted by ichabod, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 9, 2009 at 5:56 pm

i emailed the church about their pastor being afraid to preach against issues that are **clear** in the scriptures and they refuse to respond.
It's call the "fear of man" Pastor. I guess if you were around you would have advised John the Baptist to avoid talking about herod's "wife".


Posted by William, a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2009 at 5:33 am

It's a good thing the Church is there. The local business's are doing so poorly, this is the only way to draw people into the community. If Costco is the hot-spot in town on a Saturday or Sunday, then perhaps the town should start going to Church.


Posted by Isaiah, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 7, 2009 at 8:47 am

I checked the Willow Creek Association website and Abundant Life Christian Fellowship is signed up as a seeker friendly church. For those that don't know what willow creek is about do some homework. Youtube has some videos about it too.

Time to flee my friends! Ichabod!


Posted by Edward, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 16, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Folks get over it. You really want to know a group of people and company that came into Mt View a few years ago and has really damaged our community in the mt view and los altos area it is Google. With all the pompous premadonnas..foreign tech people that are just a downright shame to our community and you are complaining about Abundant Life? Just go and take a look at how Google has blown over the city of mt view as if they want a take over. Their attitudes are obnoxious in the stores as neighbors and they feel obligated to all of this. We have some neighbors near St Francis High School that are high tech. Their wives just pose on the street with their sunglasses looking down at all that pass their ways. What a bunch of snobs.... You know what I say...we were here first googolites..get over it!! And you are complaining about God fearing people that bring goodness and kindness?? Oh yes versus greed and coruption!! Please..where are our heads? I say..repent..get saved and change your ways....In with the Lord..out with Power and Greed!!


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields