Beach church, taco carts and backyards create space for Californians to know Christ
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Andy Kelly spends many of his waking hours where the Pacific meets the California coast. The Delaware native traded his beachside hometown for a beach city decades ago.
Now, he, his wife Courtney and their four kids splash in the surf and play in the sand. Unsurprisingly, the Kellys would name their new Encinitas church Water's Edge. But the name reflects more than personal pleasures or coastal geography.
Theology shapes the name since God's revelation in Scripture frequently references water sources and shorelines. Living water flows in John 7. Jesus taught and ministered alongside many shores during his earthly ministry.
Going further, God led his people through the Red Sea to escape captivity. Joshua 3 records the Jordan River stopping when the priests' feet touched the water's edge. Centuries after these wondrous encounters, Psalm 1 compares a faithful life to a tree planted beside streams of water.
Today, for Californians north of San Diego, Water's Edge is a community that invites people to know the Lord who formed the waters, makes new life and binds us together.
"Our vision is loving God and others in Christ," Kelly said. "Our mission: help everyone take a next step with Jesus."
Kelly is convinced Jesus is inviting God's people in Encinitas to take their next step and help their neighbors do the same. Kelly, who's gone from partying college student to workaholic civil engineer, from a searching soul to a convinced pastor, has seen the spectrum of spirituality.
"Neo-spiritual mysticism," he says of the community's leanings. "Yoga meets Buddha meets Christ meets whatever your own desires are."
People are doing good and being charitable toward others, he explained, yet many people inwardly struggle. Affluent people have what they want but are still unsatisfied.
"Many people are tired of ignoring their deeper hunger," he said. "People just aren't spiritually eating. When they find something outside of Jesus, they're promised so much, but it still doesn't satisfy."
To serve people, Water's Edge offers both house churches, connections dinners and smaller-group discipleship opportunities. These offer close connection while the collective, corporate worship on Sundays brings them together for praise with honest reflection.
Sometimes, they come together at a beach on Sunday mornings or meet up in a backyard with a taco cart and have praise and worship. In everything, they gather as a church to have new forms of the faith's ancient traditions.
"We're trying to create a space where people really feel like they're known and can process the difficulties in life that they would not otherwise state because you're not supposed to," he said. "No one there's going through the motions."
In the worship services, Kelly has modified his approach to leave time for people to have conversations with fellow worshipers. By having fewer funny stories or illustrations in his sermons, he's created time for the church to pair up with each other, share personal stories and pray together.
"I think there is a way forward in that, particularly for small churches," he noted.
Putting their love into action
Water's Edge has acted on its heart for families in crisis by engaging in two opportunities. First, they partnered with Olive Crest, a San Diego charity that strengthens, equips and restores children and families in trouble.
They welcome believers to act as "aunties and uncles" who provide a home for vulnerable children at risk of being placed in Child Protective Services care. Stays range from one weekend up to a few months. This respite helps kids and families get on their feet, especially in cases where there's a single parent, typically moms.
"The beauty is watching the entire church rally around our host homes," Kelly added.
Secondly, an orphanage in Mexico has also invited Water's Edge to join them for a Thanksgiving service.
God is also stimulating the ancient obedience of baptism. They've also had seven or eight children dedicated to the Lord from the congregation of about 75 people.
"We're starting to see other people coming in and finding a home," he said.
He said feeling at home is a significant need for many in the San Diego area. There are many reasons to be transient for those in Southern California. Outdoor recreation like the beach or hiking, plus the nature of college life, means many people come to enjoy a delightful environment.
However, life there is also costly for those committed to the beachside lifestyle. Those who often stay are young families who are well past college but have overcome the expenses and challenges to put down roots.
That makes a healthy rhythm of life difficult for many, even as people open chapels of self-awareness or temples that offer self-realization.
"Everybody's searching for the god in whom we live and move and have our being," Kelly said, referencing Acts 17:27-28.
That's why Flood Church, a Converge congregation in San Diego, supported Kelly and the core team to start a new church. He was formerly on staff at Flood as a pastor to young adults before Water's Edge launched in 2021.
Water's Edge offers seekers a bridge across unknown waters, an entry point into the kingdom of God. He's the one who's forming a people for himself, bringing them from the four corners of the earth into the fullness of heaven.
"There's a community here that will walk with them and ask them questions so they can rediscover God through the freedom to process," Kelly said.
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.