churches in portland city guide

City Guide: Portland

Matthew ThompsonBy Matthew ThompsonJanuary 16, 202011 Minutes

With vegan strip clubs, vacuum museums and yes, even mo-ped scooter gangs, few places are as eccentric and quirky as Portland. If you’re just moving into town, you’ll find the culture of the city to be equally as unique. In the urban core of Portland, the socio-economic lines are broken. Wealth is not flaunted -- in fact, you’ll never know who has money. People pride themselves on living under their means. Living modestly is the cool thing to do. A progressive paradise -- Portland encourages you to be authentic -- to do what you feel and embrace your true self. But as awesome as that sounds -- people are starting to discover flaws in this ideology.  Over the last decade, the Portland metro has actually become one of the most depressed and lonely areas in all of the United States. As we scramble for a solution, Portlanders have long rejected the church as an option -- confining to a religious system goes against everything the city believes in. Which makes what has transpired over the last few years even more beautiful. As Portland has developed into the most religiously unaffiliated city in the nation, it’s also weeded out religiosity and Sunday Christians.  What’s left is a passionate group of communities -- who are attracting flocks of young people with creativity and innovation. They’re not interested in simply doing church -- they’re finding community, wholeness and joy in following the lifestyle of Jesus. 

Practicing the way of Jesus

At the heart of this movement is Bridgetown Church, based in the inner eastside of Portland. Led by John Mark Comer, their community is built upon three principles -- to be with Jesus, to become like Jesus and do what Jesus did. With an incredible teaching team, they have successfully helped thousands adopt the lifestyle of Jesus throughout urban Portland. These principles have been so attractive to young people because it encompasses many of the things we all are looking for -- love, community, social justice, rest and a true sense of identity.   No matter your starting point, Bridgetown helps create a map for you to follow the way of Jesus. Even if you don’t know where you stand -- they’ll help you name your stage of apprenticeship, as well as take foundational steps towards dealing with your past and discovering your true identity/calling.

Following the way of Jesus also means embracing our call to live in true community and vulnerability with one another. With that model, Bridgetown communities have become a revelation to Portlanders over the last few years. Every week, over 70 different groups comprised of 15-20 people meet all throughout the city to share a meal with one another. Embracing the simplicity of a table conversation, this Christ-like practice creates a space where people feel loved and heard. It fosters an environment of radical hospitality. 

One aspect of Bridgetown that you will find incredibly refreshing is an emphasis on living at the pace and rhythm of life that Jesus exemplified. With just three years of ministry on Earth, Jesus accomplished far more than we ever could, but he was never in a rush. Through practices like silence and solitude, prayer and Sabbath, we learn what it means to un-clutter our minds and rest in the presence of God. Even if this sounds ambiguous to you, one thing you’re sure to connect with is the need for a less hurried life. Part of living like Jesus means we have to slow down -- which couldn’t be better news in our cultural context.

Creating a home for humanity

As native Portlanders, Andrew and Julia Damazio saw a desperate need for a community in the city that embraced Jesus’ philosophy of radical inclusion. All throughout scripture, we see Jesus giving people a place to belong before they believed, no matter their color, background or story. After having been part of the Churchome team in Seattle, in 2018 they returned to Portland to plant The Rose Church. Since then, their community has grown to over 1,000 people in just 18 months. Despite being in the most religiously unaffiliated city in the U.S., they’ve created a space that brings a vibe that one member called “like no other”. 

Since many of the churches we’ve been to in Portland appeal to a more intellectual crowd with academically rich teachings, the concise, high energy teachings at The Rose Church have filled a massive need in the city for a different crowd. By nature, Andrew is a fire-ball on the stage. Loud and captivating, his style will not only light a fire under you, but it helps drive home core aspects in adopting a Christ-like lifestyle. This has not only created a space for Portlanders who fit the eccentric-mold, but also those that do not. From the beginning, Andrew’s personality and philosophy set the tone for high-energy gatherings, which are contagious. At Rose, people are not shy about their passion and it shows.

Pastor Andrew Damazio

For young people in Portland, old church buildings usually represent a symbol of outdated religious systems. As older congregations die out, these expensive pieces of land tend to be attractive to real estate developers, so they’re usually bought and demolished to build something new. Which makes what’s happening with Rose even more of a head-turner. Communities like Rose usually have had to operate out of nightclubs and schools for years. But they’ve grown so much in such a short period of time, that they’re now in a position to buy a church building in East Portland. As what’s happening inside Rose’s doors starts trickling out on the streets, this building represents an opportunity to restore a landmark to its original meaning. With a foundation rooted in the lifestyle of Jesus, sprinkled with some creativity and innovation, Rose sees the building as a future symbol of love and hope.

Rose Church's new home, located right off East Burnside Street in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

The making of a new humanity

To Westside: A Jesus Church, following the way of Jesus doesn’t mean just merely creating another sub-culture, but rather they believe it sets the foundation for the making of a new humanity. This process starts by understanding that the concept of church was never meant to be solely a weekend gathering or a building. For Jesus, the true meaning of church is found in the actual people. Westside takes this philosophy and uses Sundays to teach you how to adopt the way of Jesus, so you can live it out throughout the week in smaller Westside communities.

Another aspect of Westside that has really resonated with Portlanders is the invitation to explore your doubts -- which in a place like Portland, there are many.  A big part of that is in the teachings, which tend to be extremely intellectually stimulating. But the lead pastor, Dominic Done, even went so far as to write a book this year on doubt called When Faith Fails. He jumps into some of the most controversial topics, including tragedy, science & faith, in addition to difficult parts of the Bible. This invitation gives you an outlet to address every part of your struggle, instead of suppressing those feelings or just outright rejecting the way of Jesus.

What's your next step?

For us, the biggest miracle with these communities is how much they’ve grown in a climate where the church has been completely outcasted.  Portlanders tend to have a keen ability to sniff out things that appear disingenuous or fake, so the growth of these communities is a testimony to what’s going on inside their doors.  What they’re offering is a countercultural lifestyle in the way of Jesus, which has brought wholeness and purpose to the lives of thousands of 20 and 30 somethings. It has produced some of the most loving, kind, compassionate and genuine people you’ll ever meet. So whether you stopped going to church ages ago or you’re looking for a community to join, we invite you to take a chance. Whatever your story is, pick a community that best resonates with you and show up. See what happens -- it very well could produce one of the most unexpected blessings you’ve ever had in life.

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