By Kent E. Fillinger
What does it mean to be a church anyone can come to? This question drives Caleb Kaltenbach and Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, Texas. Kaltenbach fully understands it is messy to reach people who would make most Christians feel uncomfortable.
When Kaltenbach arrived at Valley View two years ago, it was a predominantly white, fairly traditional, established church that had experienced its share of ups and downs. In short, it was like many other churches across the country.
Now Valley View is the place of worship for homosexual couples who walk through the church lobby holding hands, and for a transgendered woman who has been attending this winter. Drug addicts and gang members have also started to attend, and Valley View’s members have embraced all of them with love. Kaltenbach quotes Andy Stanley: “There is a difference between acceptance and approval. The church should be accepting, but it doesn’t have to approve of every lifestyle.”
Kaltenbach said his primary focus is not on the particular lifestyle a person is living, but on sharing God’s truth with that person while encouraging him or her to attend Valley View. His first concern when confronting someone is to make sure the person knows who Jesus is, so he can then address the lifestyle choices being made.
Kaltenbach has a unique personal perspective. When he was 2, his parents divorced and then both lived openly homosexual lifestyles. Kaltenbach grew up going to “gay bars” with his mother and her longtime partner, instead of going to church. In high school, Kaltenbach attended a student group led by Roy Weece, mainly to disprove Christianity, he said. But it was through this Bible study that he became a Christian.
Messy Ministry, Consistent Outreach
This is not the first time Kaltenbach has encountered the messy side of ministry and outreach. He spent 11 years on staff at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, California, where he had an opportunity to learn and grow while ministering to people from all walks of life.
Kaltenbach also learned what it means to be a visionary from Shepherd of the Hills senior pastor Dudley Rutherford, and how to clearly and consistently communicate the vision through every sermon, lesson, and group meeting. He also learned about being a multiethnic church through his time there. He has carried this over to Valley View, which is located in a multiethnic area of Dallas and is becoming “less Caucasian.”
Valley View’s attendance peaked at 1,500 prior to a church split a few years ago. After the split, a negative attitude permeated the church, and people openly questioned who would want to come to Valley View. Attendance was 475 the Sunday of Kaltenbach’s trial sermon.
The church grew 33 percent last year and averaged 900 in attendance. Kaltenbach has led the church through a mind-set change, and while about 75 people left, many more have come. The elders and the staff have been united throughout this process.
Several strategic changes have contributed to the recent growth. When he started, Kaltenbach released about a dozen staff members, replacing them with staff who better fit the future vision and direction of the church. There was also a shift in eldership. After consulting with Bob Russell and hearing Southeast Christian Church’s story and process, Valley View moved to a new leadership model. It gives the staff more autonomy to make ministry decisions while still challenging the elders to lead.
Kaltenbach also changed the church to a multigenerational worship style, because he wanted it to be a church anyone could come to. The church continues to use hymns, but in a more contemporary manner. The multigenerational approach has communicated care and value to the older generation of the church.
Energized for Ministry
The Reaching Higher one-year capital campaign, launched last spring, has served to energize the church. The goal was to raise $500,000 in commitments to remodel the church’s family ministry area, enhance its Open Door community ministry (it provides food, clothing, and household items to those in need), and broaden its overall outreach to the community. The response was great, and Valley View will come close to meeting its goal.
Kaltenbach wants to see the church continue to grow and reach its community. He is motivated to action by the lack of Christian churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex; he wants Valley View to plant a church in the area by 2014. He acknowledges there are a lot of churches in the metro area, but says there are not enough effective churches. He desires a church planting effort that will result in more independent Christian churches in the area.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.