Small in Size, Strong in Faith

Communion Church San Diego members standing while singing worship songs led by two singers at 10A.M. on Sunday March 17, 2024

The purpose of this Church-related series is to gain an understanding of the different gathering styles from small to mega-churches. My goal is to document the environments, spiritual values and overall objectives of these churches so the reader can make an educated decision on what gathering style they want to attend if they choose to do so.

The white walls and uniquely shaped brown roof have been grabbing my attention after driving past it countless times. Noticing the modest style of their marketing, nothing bright or flashy, just a building and a few banners displaying the church’s name, I thought Communion Church San Diego would be an interesting contrast to my last piece about Awaken

Communion SD sits less than one mile from the mega-church on Balboa Avenue.

From the glances I would take while driving by — a scarce parking lot and offices looking over their building — I wasn’t expecting a large crowd of people after deciding I’d attend a service. 

I did reach out, prior to the morning I attended (Feb. 26), to see if head pastor Lance Sherwood and associate pastor Bob DeSagun were available for an interview but due to a meeting directly after the service, the interview was postponed until that coming Wednesday.

Chelsea [left] and Brandon [right] leading the congregation in worship music before the sermon at 10A.M. on Sunday March 17, 2024.

Sherwood is the man who planted Communion around seven years ago. While growing up attending a small Pacific Beach church that his grandfather pastored, Sherwood felt a calling to leadership. 

“I was going to school to be a nurse, ended up dropping out, and went to Bible college and then seminary. And as I was finishing seminary, I felt a call to plant a church,” said Sherwood.

The “small church” environment is one that Sherwood feels has been helpful in terms of answering that call.

“I think there are a few living stones or people in my life that just really spoke into me and gave me access to leadership that I don’t think I would have had anywhere else,” said Sherwood.

DeSagun landed at Communion after his long-running church stopped operations a few years ago.

“I planted in 2002, we closed the church in 2019 and that’s when we came here to Communion,” said DeSagun.

After walking into the half-gymnasium-sized church, I saw about 20 people, three greeting as members arrived, five or six around the single computer they use for slides and the rest finding their seats while having impromptu yet genuine heart-to-hearts about the details of each other’s lives. 

Held up by two wooden arches, the building was one open space that featured around 100 chairs, three tables in the back with coffee pitchers and paper cups, the humble slide show set up, and the band’s equipment: no stage, a wooden backdrop, 10 light bulbs, two microphones, a guitar, a bass and a podium.

Sherwood feels that Communion doesn’t need a big production to make a meaningful impact.

“There’s so much stuff that I cared about– they really don’t even matter anymore,” said Sherwood. “And so if we’re looking at the church, I think that that’s the lens we’re looking through, is Jesus happy with this? Is this something that he can use? Is this something that is meaningful? And if it’s not, then I’m like, I don’t care about it anymore.”

More people filed in but even at its peak, attendance reached no more than 50 people.

 Sherwood believes his congregation has remained this small because expansion isn’t his goal, longevity is.

“I don’t know if big is success. I would say, I think sustainability is success,” said Sherwood. “So if you can create a community that is able to support itself and continue on that vision and mission that it sees as important and meaningful, I think that’s success for me.”

DeSagun shared similar thoughts on the matter and has written a few books explaining how large numbers don’t define success, including “Don’t Supersize It! 10 Healthy Perspectives for the Small Church”, “A Look into the Lense of the Microchurch” and “Leading A Few: A Memoir of a Small-scale Ministry Pastor’ and a few others. According to DeSagun these texts have been used in multiple Christian university courses.

“One of the biggest advocacies for the text [his books] is the advantages and the benefits of ministry on a small scale,” said DeSagun. “Whether it’s a small group, whether it’s a small church there’s just advantages to it. I list a lot, a handful that I think a lot of  people in culture are looking for.”

Though it looks like Communion is surrounded by random offices, these rooms are used in partnership with Communion and local Christian business owners in what Communion calls “The Co-Op.” According to Sherwood, Communion gives these business owners affordable space to start their commerce. They are required to pay portions of a lease but this way is more cost effective. 

“It was our way as a church to try and get behind people that might not be represented in our church community, but certainly are in our neighborhood,” said Sherwood.

Aside from financial aid, Communion offers opportunities to foster growth among its members.

“Every month we host a gathering with the Co-Op and not only do you inform them and communicate some information but we have Pastor Adrian from one of the churches that we host here who will be speaking into their life,” said DeSagun.

The Co-Op currently has six businesses and will soon add a seventh.

“Some of them are offices like World of Leaf has office space here and Chick-fil-A has office space,” said Sherwood. “The barbershop is a functioning barbershop, the tattoo shop, like you could go over there and get a tattoo right now. The music school has office hours but she’s [the music teacher] training kids how to play piano and giving voice lessons.”

The sixth is a functioning preschool with a full outside playground and the soon-to-be seventh is a music studio that, according to Sherwood, will be used for things like podcasts and live recordings.

The small attendance did not surprise me, how well they knew each other, did. These people were not strangers; from what I could tell, everyone knows everyone and if not, they’re at least going to make an effort to get to know the ones they don’t. 

Something about the smell reminded me of the church I attended when I was younger, like a chilly morning’s dewy grass or that comforting smell of imminent rainfall. 

Filling the chairs were kids, teens, adults, older individuals, Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, wealthy and not. If you weren’t talking to someone, someone would come to make conversation, and not surface-level meaningless talk; it was a genuine want to know you and a genuine hope to see you again.

 I walked into that church knowing zero people and left feeling like I knew a lot of them.

“This isn’t your first time here is it?” said a woman named Marci.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“Well welcome, how did you hear about it?” said Marci.

A few others, Mary, Brandon, and more sparked conversations in a similar way showing that they notice and care about a new face walking through their door.

I took my seat as one staff member grabbed the microphone and gave announcements, during which she encouraged people to sign up for a small group.

“We want to be a church of small groups, not a church with small groups,” said the staff member.

The worship band started playing; a sense of peace lingered creating a calm and meaningful time to sing along to the songs while not being overwhelmed by bright flashing lights or rock-style music. The children in attendance were singing with their parents, some holding their mom’s or dad’s hands while dancing. 

Following worship, the children are called up to be prayed over and then dismissed to Sunday school class. The classes are taught by volunteers of the church and surrounding community. Once the children had left the room, a staff member displayed the Sunday school schedule on the projector letting members know they needed someone to fill in a few weeks down the line.

Sherwood is usually tasked with giving the Sunday morning sermon and does so in a way that shows his congregation that he is preaching to himself as well. Whether a quick joke or an important anecdote, Sherwood engages with the church’s members, allowing the sermon to feel more personal. Going through his own spiritual journey, Sherwood told recent stories about his own life and how he too should be applying these lessons. 

“Empty yourself to be filled,” said Sherwood during his sermon.

“Yes!” said a woman in the back.

The sermon was well delivered, starting casually but building a certain passion throughout his words that kept everyone engaged, ending in a crescendo that seemed to slowly sink in, pushing Sherwood to tears.

It was clear to me that Sherwood and DeSagun have strong relationships with Communion’s members and based on what I experienced that Sunday, there is a fair chance that I will become one of those members.