Rick Olsen, who's been trying to get a Christian club started at Orange Coast College for the last few years, had become an evangelical version of the Maytag repairman: waiting, waiting, waiting for a soul to repair.
For two years, he couldn't interest a single student in launching a campus club.
Undaunted, Olsen--with the help of three Costa Mesa churches--pounded the college with prayer. One church even made sure it had people walking the campus each Saturday morning, praying for its students.
Their prayers, Olsen says, have been answered.
"Suddenly, students came out of nowhere wanting to start a club," Olsen said.
This September, nearly 300 students signed up at the Christian group's booth during the community college's "Club Rush," a two-day event held each September to introduce students to various campus organizations. Olsen has spent the following weeks madly scrambling to set up Bible studies to meet the demand.
"Campus Crusade for Christ says if you have 10 students sign up, you're successful. That's their critical mass. We had nearly 300," Olsen said. "They've never seen anything like this. God is up to something phenomenal."
Olsen presents this as the latest evidence of the developing "Church of Costa Mesa," a movement led by the city's Protestant church leaders who meet every other Wednesday to pray together for their town and the church.
"We're letting go of our own kingdoms and focusing on God's kingdom," said Olsen, college pastor at Harbor Trinity Church.
It's impossible to find ground zero of the unity movement, but one starting point began four years ago when two churches--Newport-Mesa Christian Center and Harbor Trinity--discovered both had members "prayer walking" the city.
"Prayer walking is individual prayer for every house in the city," said Bruce Merrifield, senior pastor at Harbor Trinity and a leader of the Church of Costa Mesa. "We pray for the needs of the family, their health and their children."
From there, a handful of pastors started to get together to better coordinate activities and also to pray, which has become the focal point of what Merrifield calls a "quiet revival."
"We all agree that prayer is more universal than any of our doctrine," Merrifield said. "We need to forget about our denominational name tags and drop on our knees and pray."
Now, leaders from more than 20 churches pray together on a regular basis, and weeknights are filling up with multichurch prayer and worship services.
During the early-morning meetings, the pastors will spend nearly an hour in a kind of free-association prayer, asking for everything from wisdom for city leaders to ways to reach out to even more churches, especially those with large Latino memberships and the Catholic church.
"There are so many we don't have," laments Bill Waddell, Harbor Trinity's prayer pastor.
Helping fuel the revival, Merrifield says, are high school and college students.
"We can't get them away from praying," Olsen said. "College students are going to different churches each night just so they can get in more worship time."
The revival theory lacks any hard numbers, but the pastors can reel off scores of spiritual victories in Costa Mesa that they trace back to unified prayer.
One of the most spectacular examples is Rock Harbor, a daughter church of Mariners Church in Irvine. Started two years ago, Rock Harbor now attracts 1,300 people--mostly Generation Xers--at three Sunday services.
"The prayer meetings are a source of great encouragement," said Rock Harbor's lead pastor, Keith Page. "What we're asking is: What would happen if the one church would worship the one God?"
More unity events are on the way. The churches are putting together a "Concert of Prayer" in November, where pastors, parishioners and city leaders will come together to pray and worship. And also in November, the music leaders from at least five Costa Mesa churches are putting together "The Stirring," a Woodstock-esque worship service that's expected to draw 2,000 people.
Other acts of unity are done behind the scenes. Page recently called on a pastor he didn't know, but whose church was failing.
"I just sat in his office and loved on him," said Page, who invited the troubled pastor to the Wednesday morning prayer meetings. "He told me, 'I don't have time.' And I said, 'Dude, you don't have time not to go.' "