Churches in San Francisco

City Guide: San Francisco

Matthew ThompsonBy Matthew ThompsonMay 7, 201915 Minutes

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most beautiful, wealthy and influential places in the United States. A global center for technology and innovation that houses major companies like Apple and Facebook, the opportunity to make an impact out here is promising. But living here comes at a hefty price. Between the high cost of living and intense career demands, the desire to “make it” and acquire more wealth quickly become idols and inevitably play a major role in shaping a person's self-worth and identity. Long work hours also leave little room for a social life, limiting people’s ability to form intimate friendships and build community.

Something is stirring in the city

When it comes to spiritual matters, San Franciscans tend to be tolerant of others' beliefs and are open to having conversations about it. While historically it’s been known as the place “where churches come to die”, over the past few years, there’s been a surge of new churches in San Francisco that are not only surviving, they’re thriving. One of the first churches that experienced this kind of breakthrough in the area was Pastor Dave Lomas' church, Reality SF in 2010. One member said that “the leaders have an authentic heart after Jesus”, while another said that “God always shows us on Sundays, His presence is all over this church.”

In addition to community groups, Reality SF hosts newcomer events called "Eat-Ups" every single week to help you get involved.

Now at nearly 2,000 attendees, what we found to be most amazing is that over 70% of the members are involved in weekly community groups. In a city where it’s easy to fall into isolation, this has provided people with a valuable opportunity to go much deeper in their relationship with others and in their faith. Reality says on their website that their church has been shaped into a “church of communities.”

Relationship, not Religion

Five years later, VIVE Church was born in Palo Alto, as they launched a campaign called “Religious? Neither Are We”. Encouraging a culture of innovation, they leveraged hip-hop to communicate the truth that this Christian walk is much more about a relationship with God than it is about religious traditions. The campaign ended up playing a big role in the growth of the church.

With now four locations across Palo Alto, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, one member said “it's almost impossible to get by without someone hugging you, greeting you, or just asking about your week and actually meaning it.” This is most certainly true. Upon visiting their Palo Alto location, we felt that same warm inviting vibe that resembles the heart of Jesus, not only from their team, but the entire community.

New church plants making a big impact

Two other churches in San Francisco, Sozo Church and The Father’s House SF have established growing, vibrant communities in the last couple years. From being around both of their teams, we were struck most about their dedication and sacrifice to build both of these churches.  Even with a cost-of-living that is 3x as expensive as other cities, many of the team members at Sozo decided to move from other parts of the country to volunteer and build the church, in hopes that people in San Francisco could find freedom through Jesus. Not only is Pastor Jason Laird a really gifted communicator, but he’s also helped establish an inviting group culture at Sozo built around the idea of dinner parties. All throughout the week, people come together to eat, laugh and just do life together.  This was one of our favorite parts of our time in San Francisco, because in just a few weeks, we were able to join one of these dinner parties and build meaningful relationships with truly amazing people.

Photo features one of Sozo's many dinner parties.

The Father’s House SF is one of the newest churches in San Francisco, planting in September 2018. Hosting services in the Sunset District, one of the most unchurched neighborhoods in the entire country, they’ve experienced tremendous growth in just a short period of time. They’ve brought a passionate team of people down from Vacaville that are committed to making you feel welcome and at home. One of their core values is that “you belong before you believe what we believe or behave how we behave.” Husband-and-wife duo, Pastors Tim and Robyn Bittle regularly trade-off preaching duties and have been on a unique journey on their way to starting the church (watch below).

Led by Pastor Mark McGovern, Experience Church also recently moved into Potrero Hill in 2018. Services are fiery and passionate on Sundays, led by an incredible worship team, who launched their first single in 2019, "Guardian God". Experience is also a leader in San Francisco in terms of generosity, as they have a goal to raise a million dollars to impact a million lives. They're well on their way, as in the last year alone, they were able to donate $135,000 to missions efforts.

A united front

In other areas in the country, you might find that churches are competing to get members, but not in the Bay Area. As we got to know each community, we were struck by how much the pastors cheer each other on. They're all collectively dedicated to helping people find a community of people to do life with and grow in their relationship with God. This movement has been especially unique to us, because the un-churched and de-churched group is mostly comprised of younger people, and this is precisely the demographic that is flocking to these churches and filling up seats. So whether you're already in the area or moving to the Bay, no matter where you're at in your spiritual journey, these churches do an incredible job in helping you heal, find purpose in your life and create meaningful and lasting friendships with Jesus at the center of it all.

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