He didn’t know that an Amazon 2019 planner would lead him here. He, his wife and daughter walked out of the North Park UPS Store on December 4, 2018, after returning the planner that gave off a nauseating smell. They got in the car and made a right turn and drove past North Park Baptist Church. As he looked out the passenger window at the cream building, something drew his attention toward the church he had driven past what felt like millions of times. He blurted out, “Stop!”
His wife pulled into a nearby parking spot and he stepped out of the car and stood in front of the building. He read what was written in front of him: “Hurting people loved here.”
In 2010, Derrick Miller moved his family from Los Angeles to San Diego to bring Mosaic LA to the city where Miller now works as a firefighter. After seven years with Mosaic SD, Miller and his wife Laurel felt a calling to step out in faith—a calling to start Makers Church.
But Makers was without a home. Miller, his team and the congregation, were nomads, moving from one location to the next until August 2017, when Dana Middle School offered to be a place for Makers to call home. The 1950s school auditorium, with 500 wood theater seats served as a home to the young church for a year and a half.
Miller says they weren’t looking to leave, but as 2018 came to a close, it seemed the doors to Dana Middle School were slowly closing.
“They gave us short notice that they were going to do a construction project that would displace us for quite some time,” says Miller. Makers’ options were limited, but Miller felt as though God was doing something big.
Standing in front of North Park Baptist Church after returning his Amazon purchase, Miller dialed the number he saw on the building. When the call went unanswered, he walked to the side of the building and rang a doorbell.
Janet Stewart, the administrative assistant of the church, opened the door. Miller said, “I’m not really sure why I am here other than I’m a pastor at a church with no place to gather. Do you guys rent?”
Stewart said they don’t rent, but she didn’t hesitate to invite him in. Miller understood the church did not rent out their sanctuary and didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He thanked Stewart for her time and as he returned to his car, he took out his phone and thought, “What’s the history of this place?”
He navigated through the dated website, where he clicked on a sermon from the senior pastor, Glenn Wade. “I knew this guy was the real deal,” Miller said. “He’s a shepherd of people. He loves people well.”
Miller exited the website and put the idea of North Park Baptist being home for his wandering church aside.
December soon dawned upon Makers, and although possible locations for a church home presented themselves, none met the needs of the congregation. One location was too small, others weren’t available at the time of Makers’ gatherings. Even in the scrambling, God was making a move, says Miller.
Thanks to a mutual friend of Miller and Wade, the two pastors connected and starting on December 14, emails between them were exchanged. When Wade heard that Makers might have to have their Christmas service outside, he added five short words at the bottom of the email: “I have a wild idea.”
North Park Baptist Church is primarily an older congregation, with a median age over 60, according to Miller. They embrace diversity in color, age and backgrounds, and most of the community has been deeply engaged in the church for over 20 years.
Makers, however, is mostly a younger demographic with little diversity. Miller says they lack the multigenerational and multicultural aspect of community.
“We struggled to the point where we couldn’t even have elders because we didn’t have anyone over the age of 35 for a long time,” says Miller. “Our elders weren’t even elders. They were peers.”
“A wide range of 20-somethings may sometimes say, ‘Yeah, I like the idea of intergenerational,’ but prefer churches that are basically one-word-named churches that are urban and mostly 20-something,” says Ron Benefiel, the lead consultant for mission resources and pastoral relations in the Point Loma Nazarene University Center for Pastoral Leadership.
Benefiel argues the community in churches should be intergenerational. We need the church to not be defined by social categories, says Benefiel. “Everyone has something to contribute.”
Miller says that one of his goals for Makers is to have one culture shaped by the various people entering into his church family. By welcoming people of different cultures into the church, his hope is to use those cultures to form the new, singular culture that is Makers church.
“Any time one person comes into our church, comes into our home, it changes who we are at a genetic level,” says Miller. With different experiences come different lessons for people to share, he says. The older congregation can share their wisdom with the younger and vice versa.
“The critical nature of having a multigenerational church is so that it can’t die,” says Miller, “to continue to reach lost people in every generation.”
A Baylor education study, “Intergenerational Worship: Why It’s Worth It!” writes, “Within some congregations, there are multiple age-group mini congregations that function independently in terms of spiritual nurture and formations.”
But both Miller and Benefiel acknowledge that times are changing, and the world is veering towards a post-Christian culture.
“There are things that are contributing to a generational divide that is the most distinct generational divide we’ve had in American society since the ’60s,” says Benefiel. We are moving rapidly towards what he calls “a post-Christian” context.
“These apparently sturdy and traditional churches are already deeply involved in, and themselves defined by, ‘processes of secularization,’” writes Mattias Martinson, a professor of Systematic Theology at Uppsala University in Sweden, in the Uppsala Universitet study, “The Post-Christian Christian Church.”
“The churches have thus already metamorphosed from churches within the framework of a Christian culture to what we a little pointedly could call ‘post-Christian Christian churches,’” writes Martinson.
But Miller says it’s a good time to go back to church culture. “People used to not want to set foot in church culture…most people don’t want change. We have to be willing to shift.” He says people must be willing to integrate generations.
Benefiel referred to Ephesians 2:14, “For He [Jesus Christ] Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” He says that church community will become a new reality when the walls come down, especially those pertaining to integrating generations.
Wade set up another meeting with Miller, giving him the grand tour of the church. The blue carpet, the baptistery and the stained-glass window gave context to the church he was viewing with hopeful eyes.
“I can’t stop thinking about this. We need to meet again,” wrote Wade in an email just days after their prior meeting.
When the two churches merged, Miller says that Makers church became multicultural and multigenerational overnight. Integrating the diverse ages and cultures of both churches, he says. “They brought age, cultural [and] diversity, and we brought reach.”
North Park Baptist had lost their reach to the community because of their inability to reach the younger generation, according to Miller, but Makers now helps the church to reflect its neighborhood and reach those around them.
“Watching everyone come together as the church, worshipping under one roof, has been inspiring,” says Hollyanne Simon, a member of Makers church both before and after the merge. “It is a true representation of how Christ intended the church.”
Today, Makers and North Park Baptist are in their third month of the merger, but North Park Baptist will decide next month if they want to make the merger permanent. “They are dating us between January and April,” says Miller.
“It will become Makers church if they say yes,” he says. “The Makers church it becomes will be very different than the Makers church it was before we ever met.”
It will be a sacrifice in certain areas to bring cohesion, according to Miller, but both churches still invite those who are hurting.
It’s like bad dancing because the churches aren’t yet blended, says Miller. “We’re on the dance floor and we are tripping over each other’s feet,” he says. “We want to be dancing…but we haven’t learned each other’s rhythm yet.”
He says, “We just keep saying ‘sorry’ and ‘let’s try it again.’”
Miller’s seven-word response to Wade in December 2018 changed the fate of the two congregations.
“By the way, I love wild ideas,” he wrote.