A bridge for the journey
Rita Barrow had not been regularly attending any particular church, and then she got a personal invitation to check out a new one.
A few Sundays ago, Barrow and her friend, Joe Ashley, stopped by the newly formed Progression Church, which was gathering in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry on the LSU campus.
They found a group of friendly people their own age who sing contemporary Christian music and study the Bible. Barrow and Ashley say they’ll be back.
“I think it’s awesome. I like what they are doing,” said Barrow, who recently earned her master’s degree in accounting from LSU. “There are a lot of young people who don’t have religion, and they are trying to reach out to those people. They are welcoming everyone — it doesn’t matter if you have God or not.”
Progression Church’s first service was on Jan. 12, and nearly 80 people attended, said lead Pastor Brian Crain, 28.
Late last year the fledgling church mailed out more than 5,000 flyers to area households, and they’re spreading the word with personal contacts and social media.
Crain’s invitation is simple: “Wherever you are on your faith journey, we have a place for you here.”
“Our mission comes from the Great Commission, Matthew 28: 16-20, where Jesus said to go out and baptize and make disciples,” Crain said after the Jan. 19 service, which was attended by several dozen young people and adults.
“We believe that if someone doesn’t know Christ, their next step, their progression, is to put their faith in Jesus,” Crain said. “And for believers, it is discipleship.”
That next step, that progression, is “the aim is to be more like Christ,” Crain said. “We want to be more and more like Jesus.”
The fledgling church’s services are informal and contemporary with a small rock band providing the music. Audience members freely speak up in response to Crain’s occasional questions and quips.
The church also is designed for young people who are starting families, with a children’s church held in the center’s adjoining chapel.
The church’s logo is the I-10 Mississippi River bridge brushed in stark black lines, designed by Jessica Handy, teaching Pastor Joe Handy’s artistic wife.
“We didn’t want something ‘churchy,’” she said. “And it’s iconic of Baton Rouge.”
And it’s in Baton Rouge where the Crains, the Handys and several other “launch team” families, many longtime friends, came together last summer. They moved here from Texas and other parts of Louisiana to start the ministry, with prayer and Bible study sessions beginning last August.
But Baton Rouge already has hundreds of churches, so why start another?
The millennial generation is the largest in U.S. history, Crain explained, but it’s members are also least likely to go to church.
And, he said, many millennials are “de-churched,” people who grew up in church but have since left their faith roots.
“Even if there are 700 churches in this city, regardless, it’s really easy to find un-churched twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings,” Crain said. “There is a low percentage of people in this generation who feel church is relevant or important, so our heart is to reach those people and show them it is relevant to their life.”
Christopher Black, a team member who knew Crain and the others in college and already lived in Baton Rouge, added, “With one more church we are growing the Christian faith and delivering the message of Jesus Christ. We’re not trying to outdo anybody else, we’re just trying to touch a generation that maybe didn’t find what they were needing at another church or maybe just haven’t found that church to belong to.”
“The Gospel is essential for salvation, and the church is essential for growth in the faith,” Crain added. “We all have a need for community — God wired us that way.”
While the feel of the church is casual in dress and attitude, it is still fundamentally a Southern Baptist church, Crain said. Until it can stand on its own financially, the church is being funded by five Baptist churches and the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
And, although the Progression Church meets in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry buildings, it is not a BCM program, explained BCM Director Steve Masters.
“We like their commitment to and interest in a personal outreach,” Masters said. “We feel like God is really going to bless the ministry.”