Bayside Church celebrates its 15th anniversary

Granite Bay church has two reasons to celebrate this Easter Sunday
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Senior Pastor Ray Johnston sat at the desk in his office at Bayside Church, looking a bit tired. The night before, he arrived home from a 36-hour-long trip to Mexico, where 560 teenagers and adults from his church built new houses for widowed women. “We have a little thing here called Easter,” Johnston said. “So I thought I should get back.” On Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. For Bayside Church, Sunday offers another reason to celebrate, as the day marks the Granite Bay church’s 15th anniversary. But the church has no plans to throw itself a party. “I don’t even know that we will mention our anniversary,” Johnston said. “It’s kind of like going to the White House and talking about yourself instead of the president.” The church traces its informal beginnings to 1994, following the suicides of a few local teenagers. Worried that the community didn’t have resources available to serve troubled youth, a group of parents joined together to pray for help. “That was the beginning of Bayside,” said director of advancement Sharol Josephson. The group soon increased to 164 people and moved to the Granite Bay Tennis Club. An elementary school and high school also housed parishioners before Bayside Church built a permanent facility on 34.6 acres of land on Sierra College Boulevard in 2004. At that time, 6,753 people regularly attended church services. Now, the 94,500-square-foot complex boasts a congregation of 10,000 people. The majority of churchgoers come from Roseville, Granite Bay and Rocklin, but people also travel in from Elk Grove, Sacramento, Vacaville, Lake Tahoe and other northern California cities. Bayside Church plans to add a sixth service this fall to accommodate the swelling ranks. The church also launched 12 “church plants” in Auburn, Placerville, west Roseville, south Sacramento and other areas, which altogether serve some 6,000 people. Although affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Bayside Church doesn’t focus on any one denomination, Josephson said. Instead, Bayside prides itself on offering an atmosphere of acceptance and being the church for people who don’t like going to church. “People think church is a place to be judged for their pasts, or they expect church to be an inward-focused place that doesn’t care about the community,” Josephson said. This isn’t the case for Bayside, she said. Last year, the church gave $262,000 to parishioners in the form of gas, food, clothing and furniture vouchers, counseling sessions and other forms of assistance. Members raised $102,000 for 24 charities through a large garage sale event, and donated 48 tons of food to the Placer County Food Bank. As Bayside’s community-oriented approach continues to attract new parishioners, the church struggles with how to address the rapid growth. The pastors have a saying that they strive to “serve up a sermon on a platter that everyone can eat from.” This growth, though, presents both a blessing and a curse. “Most churches are looking to grow,” Josephson said. “We’re working really hard to feel smaller.” To ensure that congregation members feel connected with one another, the church offers more than 500 small groups in the form of Bible study groups and ministries for women, men, single parents, blended families, divorced people, sexual addicts and youth, as evidenced by the recent Mexico house-building expedition. During spring break, teenagers and adults worked all day long, sleeping in tents at night. Last time Bayside sponsored this trip, volunteers built 14 houses. Saturday night, the group returns home. “Easter week in America, there are teenagers doing all sorts of bad things,” Johnston said. “They come back with hangovers. Our kids come back psyched out of their minds.” As for Johnston, he grew up in a secular home in southern California. He was somewhere between an atheist and agnostic, and remembers once talking a friend out of becoming a Christian. Now he finds value in the message of hope he believes Christianity and the church he founded have to offer. “People are starving for hope,” Johnston said. “When you give people hope it’s like pouring water onto parched ground.” Sena Christian can be reached at