Walking down Ventura Boulevard on a Sunday night, you might have noticed the doors open and the lights aglow inside Camarillo Evangelical Free Church. At around 7:30, you might have heard drummers and guitarists rocking out as dozens of voices sing along. These worship songs are not your typical church hymns, nor is this your typical Sunday service; it’s Emmaus, the weekly service designed with college students and twenty-somethings in mind. Led by Pastor Jon Marshall, Emmaus began in 2010 with a vision that has remained unchanged: to gather the next generation to worship Jesus and love others.
This group, which began with 10 members, has grown to around 130, with students from CSUCI, Moorpark College, California Lutheran, Eternity Bible College and even CSU, Northridge, in regular attendance. With interest in Emmaus so high, Marshall says, “We’re open to anything God wants to do.” For now, however, the Sunday night worship experience is just a group of people who “come together and worship Jesus and love others,” says Albert Alcorn, a former youth pastor and Emmaus volunteer. People start filing in around 7 p.m., though worship doesn’t begin until 7:30 p.m. when the band begins. After that, Marshall takes over to deliver a sermon geared toward issues facing young adults. Every now and again, Marshall pauses to ask if anyone has any questions. Guests are allowed (and encouraged) to ask right then and there, either aloud or through text. During the service, or any time during the week for that matter, people can text any questions they might have and Marshall will address them during the service or with a personal reply.
Though the service concludes at about 9 p.m., people continue hanging out late into the night, talking and laughing. No one is in a hurry to go home; they’d rather catch up with their friends over a steaming mug of coffee or tea or get some fresh air in the courtyard. In October, there was even a photo shoot after the service where congregants had their pictures taken for the Emmaus website. Most guests stayed after to smile for the camera, happy to be among friends in a positive atmosphere.
This is one of the church’s greatest strengths — that through this unique worship service, it provides a welcoming and inviting environment for Christians and non-Christians. Volunteer Christy Rutledge says it offers “a safe place for community where you’re not being judged.” But is the Emmaus experience more social than spiritual? Greg Andrews, a regular attendee, says, “There are definitely people who want to grow closer to Christ, but I don’t think that’s necessarily everyone.” Rutledge agrees: “Some people are there just for the safety of it, the warmth.”
When asked what is the biggest issue facing Christian twenty-somethings and college students, Marshall explains that it’s “the temptation to live a normal American life. That’s the biggest threat, to live like everybody else. Sexually like everyone else, financially like everyone else — a lifestyle like everybody else. We’re constantly talking about that.
What has drawn people, hopefully, is our authenticity about how we approach faith and church,” Alcorn explains. To those curious about Emmaus, Marshall invites them to simply “come on in.” All ages and all faiths are welcome.
For information, visit emmauscamarillo.com.