A network of Wesleyan faith communities based in San Clemente, California, are multiplying gospel communities while also working to solve the global water crisis. For Dr. Ryan Delamater, founder of Ocean Water (OCNWTR), the intersection of culture, economics and technology are creating unique opportunities for a wholeness-centered model of church planting.
With space being a costly commodity in the coastal community, Dr. Delamater and his team determined that a nimbler approach would give rise to more resources for mission. So rather than purchasing or renting a building, OCNWTR meets in a coffee shop on Tuesday evenings, conducting services after the shop has closed.
As an added benefit, this arrangement allows the coffee shop to gain a tax credit for playing host to OCNWTR’s gatherings — helping both the congregation and the small business thrive in an expensive climate.
For Dr. Delamater — educated in traditional seminaries, prepared for a traditional congregational model — this innovative approach was based on the idea that if a church can commit to a nimble strategy, it can withstand turbulent times and devote more funds to critical mission.
The approach has led to rapid multiplication, as well. OCNWTR is only two-and-a-half years old but has morphed from a gathering of three people in a jujitsu studio into a network of 12 churches in five countries, all using a simple approach to gather for free and utilize the funds raised to support water projects around the globe. OCNWTR provides solar-powered, decentralized water solutions that help distribute clean drinking water from the ocean.
“Water is a one-billion-person problem and soon to be a two-billion-person problem. OCNWTR solves a water problem, a leadership problem and a cost problem,” reflected Dr. Delamater. “You add all that up and you get good results. Technology has pressed our economy to accelerate our race to zero — the people who can figure out how to do church at a cost-point of zero, they are hard to stop.”
The worship gatherings themselves include coffee, tacos, corporate singing, prayer and a time of teaching. A rotating teaching structure leaves Dr. Delamater preaching approximately once monthly, and other co-vocational pastors preaching the remaining weeks.
The water component of their mission emerges through global partnership with local communities around the world who need water. Together, teams from OCNWTR travel around the world, often including people with no formal profession of faith. That witness — and the winsomeness of the surfing culture itself — is something easier to get behind.
“What’s sadly become the case is that Christians cause problems everywhere they go, rather than solving problems,” said Dr. Delamater. “Here, instead of Christians causing problems, we’re helping solve a problem. Water, food, housing and job creation are the top problems facing many cultures today — any church who can do that will be successful.”
The services, along with the bent toward justice (and the surf culture which the church shares with San Clemente), creates a winsome climate for those interested in being part of a community doing good around the world.
“Where Ocean Water goes, by addressing the water need, they earn, quickly, the right to share the gospel. This communicates to people that God cares for you, as we care for you,” said Dr. Phil Stevenson, district superintendent of the Pacific Southwest District.
As congregations continue to navigate turbulence and stewardship, OCNWTR’s model is a case study in the effectiveness of a nimble congregation. Those who watch can learn about how a small community — meeting in coffee shops or parks or other places that church-suspicious people still want to go — can align around the mission of God and build a new community that draws from the ocean’s saltwater in order to provide both clean and living water.
For more information on OCNWTR and their ongoing mission, visit ocnwtr.com.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of collegians and young adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.