Mariners Church helps people grapple with the big questions.
The novel coronavirus has had an unexpected effect on Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Rather than lead it to lose followers as church shifted online, the pandemic has actually expanded Mariners’ digital reach.
“The onset of COVID-19 has contributed to our growth in spite of the many constraints imposed on our regular ministry rhythms,” says Cathi Workman, Mariners’ chief content officer. “Our teams pivoted quickly to transition our programs into online formats and launched new online programming to serve our youth and families.”
Mariners also refocused its outreach efforts to provide relief and support for essential workers and individuals affected by COVID-19. Workman says these community members responded by watching weekend services and signing up for small groups, thereby increasing church growth.
She also credits “Rooted,” a 10-week small group series that Mariners adopted from its partner church in Kenya, which encouraged members to pray, serve and study God’s Word together. The new senior pastor, Eric Geiger, also has attracted more visitors.
“Eric has continued the legacy Mariners has in our community of delivering relevant biblical messages, prioritizing our outreach strategy and investing in the next generation,” Workman says. “The ongoing relationship between Eric and [former pastor] Kenton Beshore has created a beautiful bridge from the past to the future. Eric brings a new, unique energy to the church, creating curiosity in our community and reigniting the faith for many.”
As the public contends with civil unrest and a deadly pandemic, more people long for theological depth, Workman says. Mariners responded to this need by launching a seven-week systematic theology class for which more than 900 people registered, many of whom were new believers.
“With so much uncertainty and turmoil in the world, I believe people are being confronted with the tough questions around life and faith and are looking for a firm theological foundation to build their lives upon,” Workman explains.
While many residents of the church’s surrounding community are affluent, others find themselves experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic. Workman recently heard the story of a woman who visited the food pantry Mariners runs when COVID-19 first hit. In a reversal of fortune, she’s now volunteering for the food pantry that served her, Workman says.
The pantry is also one of the places where longtime member Huy Do serves. During his 28 years at Mariners, which he first attended as a youth growing up in a family of Vietnamese Buddhist refugees, Do has participated in the church’s global outreach missions in countries including Mexico, Uganda and Cambodia, and sat on its search committee for a new pastor. He says he’s learned to serve those in need with dignity and respect rather than immediately trying to evangelize to them. And now he’s learning to sit with community members as the United States undergoes a transition sparked by COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd.
“It’s just a really interesting time of lament,” he says. “Brothers and sisters are hurting. God has given us the ability to learn in some ways, but it’s not easy.”
At this time, the way the church engages the community is critical, Do says. And Workman points out that as churchgoers have more time to reflect on their lives in quarantine, they’re not as hesitant to talk about God.
“I’ve heard hundreds of stories of people experiencing a new boldness in sharing their faith with others,” Workman says, “sharing links to Mariners online offerings, inviting their neighbors to watch weekend services with them and finding new ways to be the church.”
—Nadra Kareem Nittle
Senior Pastor: Eric Geiger
Growth: +1,539 (14%)