HOWARD — It’s not your average church.
Journey Church, on Schenck Creek Road near Howard, is housed in a former pole barn that is now decorated in pleasant earthy colors, with murals on the classroom walls, and comfy sofas and stools in its trendy “Journey Java” coffee bar where doughnuts are served.
The nondenominational, non-charismatic, independent church was created to be different. And it has become so popular — especially with young people — and grown so fast that the congregation added rooms onto the building and created a third Sunday service.
That, they say, is a very good thing.
Merry Anne Schultz, director of care, said the growth has come from “word of mouth, but God has just worked with it.”
“Les Claxon, our worship pastor, is a musician who writes music,” she said. “He’s able to take the traditional hymns and make them contemporary for the young people. We use contemporary music and a praise band in our worship.”
Lead pastor Chuck Hagy, Schultz said, has the ability to lead the congregation in the most genuine way she’s ever encountered.
“What you see is what you get with him,” she said. “He’s a very upbeat, loving and caring individual, but he leads us with kindness and respect. He will not fudge on the truth, but he’s very kind and loving.”
Service and missions — what the Journey congregation calls CARE, Compassion-Awareness-Response-Encouragement — are an integral part of the church’s mission.
It hosts “Fifth Quarter” youth events following every EKHS home football game, when 200-plus young people descend on the church for pizza, pop, music and a bonfire.
“We’re involved with Lower Lights Ministry, a homeless ministry in the Franklinton area of Columbus,” said Hagy. “It’s an important part of the health of Journey to be part of it.”
“CARE is a very big part of what we do,” added Schultz. “We really believe that we are to be an outreach ministry, going beyond our own walls. Our focus is to get beyond ourselves, to help people and to care like Jesus cared.”
Hagy served as a youth pastor for years after graduating from seminary, but had a dream of a different kind of church, one that would be attractive to youth and others drawn to contemporary worship. The congregation began meeting at East Knox High School, the Apple Valley clubhouse and other locations until it could purchase a building.
“This was just a pole barn in 2004,” he said, looking at the colorful murals painted on the walls by artist and member Sanja Zoeller. “It had a dirt floor. Forty or 50 of us renovated it, and we contracted for the things we couldn’t do. But the Apple Valley-Howard area didn’t really have a church, so we thought this would be a good location.”
In a short time, it was necessary to add on to the building and add a second service, then a third. Outside, a basketball court and volleyball net give teens a place to both fellowship and burn off energy. Hagy estimates that about 350 people attend the three services on Sunday mornings. Dress is casual.
“We dress down,” said Hagy, “so that people who don’t go to church will feel comfortable. And we never pass the [offering] plate. They hear music they can relate to, a style they would hear on the radio. It’s ‘come as you are.’ God looks at the inside, not the outside.”
Many Mount Vernon Nazarene University students attend the Journey, and there’s a big drop in church attendance when school ends for the summer.
“We have to double our doughnut order when they’re here,” Schultz said with a smile.
Claxon was attending MVNU when he discovered the church.
“I was a sophomore when I first came to Journey,” he said. “They were meeting in the high school, with about 30 people. A couple weeks later I helped lead worship, just me and my guitar, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s a very cool thing to watch it grow and blossom.”
Assistant pastor Tim Barenscheer is also an MVNU graduate.
“This is a different church,” he said. “There’s a life to it. It’s very loving.”
“We have a lot of love in our church,” agreed Hagy. “The spirit moves within the unity of the people.
“When it comes to starting a church, you’re not really taught that in seminary. I have to admit I don’t really know what to do. We’re taking it one step at a time and saying, ‘God, what do you want us to do today?’”
Will the Journey continue its rapid growth?
“We’re willing to do that if that’s what God wants us to do, but we’re not getting too anxious about that. We’re letting God lead us,” Hagy said.