Silicon Valley’s C3 Church Employs Unique Methods to Reach the Unchurched in Seat of Innovation


This spring, C3 Silicon Valley (C3SV) — an independent offshoot of a Pentecostal megachurch, with three Bay Area locations — posted a rap video on its Facebook wall advertising Easter services. The lyrics were written by a former Google employee who now works full-time as a pastor for the church, and they are heavily laced with startup lingo.

“I’ve made so many errors you can’t even debug it / Like an elephant in the room, there’s no seeing above it / Got a job making money, but don’t even love it,” a young black man dressed like Mark Zuckerberg tells the camera. Quick cuts of distraught people and graffiti-covered buildings flash by as he continues rhyming about faith, skepticism, and venture capital: “If I had a startup, it would get a network effect / The valuation goes up, but is my value still met?”

Members of the church who work at Facebook — and there are many — used their allotted credits to boost the visibility of the post. As of this writing, it has about 61,000 views, roughly 80 times as many as the online recording of the Easter sermon itself.

Silicon Valley might seem like an odd place for a religious revival, but the founders of C3SV have nonetheless appointed themselves missionaries to the locals, and are happily spreading the good word in the seat of innovation. The church is led by Adam Smallcombe, a charismatic 35-year-old pastor with an alt-country undercut, a winsome rhetorical style, and an affinity for motorcycles. Smallcombe and his wife, Keira, moved here from Sydney, Australia, in 2012, leaving jobs as youth ministers to “plant” a church in the Bay Area.

The C3 in the church’s name refers to C3 Global, formerly Christian City Church International, a Pentecostal (or “charismatic”) institution that launched in 1980 and went global as part of the wave of similar megachurches that emerged out of Australia in recent decades. The most famous of them is undoubtedly Hillsong Church, which has cultivated a youthful following despite its controversy-plagued leadership. Global outposts have attracted fashion models, NBA stars, and even Justin Bieber through upbeat, musically oriented sermons and rock star–like preachers who broadcast glamorous lives on social media.

C3SV is not affiliated with Hillsong, but it too aims to propagate its gospel by attracting the cool, young people in its own neighborhood — except that in Silicon Valley, those millennial influencers tend to work in tech. The constitution for Christian City Church International actually encourages a sort of modular adaptability, so that each individual church can be dressed up to blend into its environment. The church has “no particular ‘style,’” the constitution says. Rather, ministers are instructed to present New Testament principles in a “culturally relevant manner.” (A recent billboard for a C3 church in Toronto, for example, reads “For God So Loved the 6,” a reference to the rapper Drake’s nickname for his hometown.)

And so here in Silicon Valley, the Smallcombes are selling religion like a software product to a room studded with Apple employees and data-startup engineers. C3SV’s website, with its fresh design and frictionless commerce, looks like it could belong to any number of Valley startups; its donations page starts with the words “INVEST IN ETERNITY” and could just as easily work as crowdfunding for a cryogenics company. On Facebook, where C3SV has 7,000 fans, the church’s posts read with the chipper cultural fluency of any savvy #brand. Last month, at the apex of Pokémon Go mania, one said, in part, “To sum it up… we want to be the ‘Pokemon Go’ of churches. After all, the Great Commission is clear: GOTTA CATCH EM ALL!”

In Palo Alto, services take place in a rented Jewish Community Center a six-minute drive from Google’s headquarters and a 12-minute drive from Facebook (in Valley tradition, the Smallcombes refer to the location as a “campus”). The San Francisco campus’s co-pastors are Vance Roush, a former quality associate for Google who wrote the rap, and his wife, Kim. The co-pastors of the San Jose campus, Adam and Amy Hahn, are also a married couple: Adam recently left his role as a recruiter for Facebook to work full-time for the church, and Amy works as a recruiter for Apple.

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