Saddleback Church, founded by Pastor Rick and Kay Warren, launched its newest campus in San Diego on Sunday, Oct. 23. Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback and author of “The Purpose Driven Life” was there to celebrate the opening of his 17th campus that will meet weekly at Canyon Crest Academy.
Everyone, no matter what their background, faith journey or need is welcome to attend Saddleback, said the San Diego campus’ Pastor Jeff Gonzalez.
At the first Sunday, there were over 1,600 people in attendance between the two services inside the CCA auditorium, the outdoor service and the student ministries.
“It was amazing,” Gonzalez said. “There are so many great churches in San Diego and I just feel privileged and honored that 1,600 of my neighbors decided to come out and be there for the historic launch of the newest Saddleback campus.”
“Saddleback San Diego is one we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Warren said. “We have members who drive every week from San Diego to our other campuses…We’ve been waiting for the right pastor.”
Gonzalez is a former Marine who served over 20 years in the Marine Corps and did four combat tours, two in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
After his first tour in Iraq, Gonzalez struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when he returned home and was troubled by the number of former military members that were committing suicide out of helplessness and desperation.
“I couldn’t just stand on the sidelines and watch it happen, I had to be involved,” Gonzales said. “I felt God call me into the ministry and I didn’t even know what that looked like.”
He started out in the church as a volunteer at Saddleback San Clemente and went onto lead services in Afghanistan while he was deployed—he wanted to give back and share what had helped him and his family.
“It felt good serving others,” Gonzalez said.
A father of four children, including a son with Cerebral Palsy, Gonzalez credits his “super hero” wife Christine for holding it all together throughout his deployments.
After his second tour in Afghanistan, Gonzalez finished his degree, retired from active duty and was hired to lead the outreach ministry at Southwest Church in the Coachella Valley. He said he has a real heart for working in the community, meeting the needs of the hopeless and people who don’t have a voice.
He served at Southwest Church for three years before Warren came calling about Gonzalez helping him fulfill a longtime dream of opening a church in San Diego.
“I said ‘Me? I’m just a regular guy’ and he said ‘Exactly. You are.’ I told him I would be honored to be the pastor of a neighborhood, family church,” Gonzalez said.
The Saddleback service includes a “multi-site” concept. Every Sunday, Warren’s teaching is streamed from the main campus in Lake Forest to all 17 campuses and to at-home online worshippers around the world. Gonzalez leads Carmel Valley’s program that aims to give people purpose and provide positive and inspiring messages. The service also includes live, contemporary music and attendees have the option to sit either inside or outside.
Gonzalez said that he is very grateful for the cooperation with the Canyon Crest Academy administration and foundation and hopes that they can develop a strong partnership.
“We want the best for our community and our kids,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t just tenants…We are Carmel Valley.”
Saddleback Church San Diego’s Sunday service times are 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Canyon Crest Academy, 5951 Village Center Loop Road, 92130. Student ministries are only provided at the 11 a.m. service. For more information, visit saddleback.com/sandiego.