It may seem odd to walk into church on Sunday morning and sing to music performed by musicians who play with multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning recording artists, but that is just the norm at Valencia Christian Center.
When Marlon Saunders, pastor of Valencia Christian Center (VCC), started the church in 2008 he know there would be two main components to building the congregation: the word of God and music.
“When people come into church I want them to feel like they’ve been to a Beyonce concert,” said Saunders. “Why should people go to the Staples Center and have more fun than they do at church?”
Saunders was a full-time musician before becoming a pastor. The love of music was a part of his life from a young age, singing in his grandfather’s choir and performing in national drum competitions.
Naturally, one of his most important goals was to build a quality music program that could touch the hearts of churchgoers of all backgrounds. It seems, he did just that.
“Our job as musicians is to set the atmosphere for pastor to deliver the word,” said Theresa Bailey, worship and arts director. “Its necessary before you hear the word to settle down. Our music helps everyone to focus vertical.”
Bailey came onboard early on and is no stranger to the music industry. She recently returned from touring with Boy George and the Culture Club and has sung backup for Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah and Chaka Khan.
But the level of Hollywood talent doesn’t stop there. Her husband Chris, who plays drums for the worship band, has drummed for Britney Spears, Nick Jonas, and the Spice Girls. JJ Smith the bass player, also plays for Mary J. Blige and Cliff Williams, the keyboardist, tours with R&B sensation Babyface.
All the band members are highly qualified, with a musical resume to back it up. Many say that is why the musical program at VCC is just that good.
“For us, we are dedicated to the ministry and want to see it reach its highest potential,” said Cliff Williams.
Musicians and Christians
Despite the high level of talent, the worship team is surprisingly devoid of ego and bragging. During the week they may work with top level musicians, but the team is quite humble and focused on enhancing worship.
“We want amazingly talented people, but we don’t want a bad attitude in church,” said Bailey. “We try to get good people who are Christians and love the Lord and happen to be excellent musicians.”
Bailey explained the congregation often commends the team on their performances and remark on the level of talent and kindness.
“They are proud to say our musicians are super nice and excellent at what they do,” said Bailey.
The church often has celebrity visitors as well, at times joining the worship team to sing. Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, R&B singer Shanice and Niecy Nash have attended Sunday worship.
“On any Sunday you might hear hymns, gospel and contemporary in the same set,” said Bailey. “We do a little of everything and try to remember where we are. In Santa Clarita there are a lot of different people, some who go to church, others who don’t, some who like gospel, some who like contemporary Christian. We try to be sensitive to that.”
Band members believe the music ministry isn’t just a backdrop for the church, it is almost as important as the preaching.
“At times, music gives you something you can carry with you and uplifts you in a way that simply speaking words cannot,” said Williams.
Williams and his wife are so dedicated to VCC’s mission, they drive from Pasadena each week.
Aesha Roberts and her family also feel the same. Her family visited nearly a dozen churches. After visiting VCC they knew it was their church home, despite their long drive from Ventura.
“Music can make or break my worship experience,” explained Roberts, who now sings with the band and filled in as worship leader when Bailey was touring. “There were many good churches, but I could not connect to the music. I always felt like something was missing.”
Roberts also grew up with music being a big part of her life and is the daughter of a well known singer in Milwaukee. She, like many others, understood music draws churchgoers and enhances the experience.
“Music has to be a part of the church’s mission,” said Roberts. “It touches peoples lives and can shift attitudes. People may come through the door and be running late, or yelling at their kids, or burdened by the week; but when you have the right sounds and atmosphere, it can shift your mind and spirit.”