HIGH POINT – Alcohol smell and tobacco smoke swirling around the bar are gone.
Coffee and hot chocolate are the drinks of choice when the former Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge opens at 9:15 a.m. on Sundays in High Point.
Conversations are different too. Now they are about Jesus, Bible classes and attracting the unchurched in north High Point to the 10 a.m. worship services and the in-home Bible studies.
Jeans, golf shirts, shorts and sneakers far outnumber suits and ties.
The Journey Church of the Triad, a place for seekers and also for serious Christians wanting to "do church" differently, bought the Moose Lodge this summer. The church is a member of the Piedmont Baptist Association in Greensboro, not the closer Central Baptist Association to which most High Point churches belong.
Ironically, Journey's pastor is Alan Cox, formerly pastor of one of North Carolina's largest Baptist churches – Green Street Baptist in High Point. He left Green Street on good terms to start a church on High Point's burgeoning north side.
With Sunday attendance averaging about 150, acquiring a permanent worship site in a key location was a coup for the church, Cox said. Purchased well below appraisal, Journey Church obtained financing with a bond issue.
A recent Saturday back-to-school block party attracted 350 to 400 people and "a lot of school supplies were given away," Cox said. The enthusiasm carried over to the Sunday service when about 250 people attended the worship services. And, yes, many showed up early to drink coffee and chat around the bar.
"What a great weekend. We had nine people to get saved. Praise God," Cox said.
Starting a church in north High Point was a vision for Cox when he resigned from Green Street May 28, 2006. He left behind a six-figure salary and a church of more than 4,000 members. Cox is actually bi-vocational, working also with IMPAC Services, a capital stewardship firm in Brentwood, Tenn. He also is being partially supported by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as a church planter, but there is no sponsoring sister church.
"Our vision is to reach High Point for the cause of Christ, not to gain church members," he said. "We are trying to reach people who do not have a church background. Our mission is to guide spiritual seekers on a life-changing journey with God. When we get to a certain size, we will start another church. Then another one – and another one," he said.
Traditional Sunday School classes are passé here. But there is a strong emphasis on small groups, which meet in homes on weekday evenings. Neither does the church have deacons but is elder run. Cox, listed as the lead pastor, and Keith Hall are the only elders. "We will expand (on the number of elders) as we grow and as there is a need," Cox said.
The church is structured but the emphasis is on "sharing and helping," he said. Cory and Lori Dalton are youth leaders. Erin Proctor is the nursery/preschool leader; and John and Traci Leach are in charge of the children's ministry. Travis Vernon is the worship leader.
Glenn Record, a CPA, is in charge of financial affairs, Cox said.
Cox, 50, is a Greensboro native who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., before coming to High Point. He is a graduate of Piedmont Baptist College in Winston-Salem and Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He and his wife, Melody, also were traveling gospel singers in their youth.
"I still love gospel music but that is not the kind of music that goes over with our people here," he said. "We have a worship band of about five people. Our music is contemporary, and we sing occasional hymns to a new tune and beat," he said.
The "preaching" also is non-traditional, with Cox sitting on a high stool beside an oval table and talking informally to his congregation. At times, he pauses from his commentary, to entertain discussions or questions about the morning topic.
"People love to get involved (in the worship)," he said.
Cox is a veteran at organizing a new church. His first church started in his living room in Blacksburg, Va. That church eventually was able to construct a building and thrive when Cox left to become pastor of an Asheville church.
The Journey group also had its beginning in Cox's home, then they met at Hall's house because "he had a bigger yard."
Members have spent many hours remodeling Moose Lodge and working on the six acres of grounds. Inside required not only paint and new carpet, but the walls needed a special chemical treatment to rid them of the tobacco and alcohol smell.
The labor has made the mission and vision for north High Point even more meaningful. Cox thought he would miss the mega-church world but finds that, "I don't miss it at all," he said. "I'm finding the relationship with the people (in the new ministry) far outweigh anything I would miss."
For more information, contact the church web site at www.thejourneychurch.org.
(EDITOR'S NOTE — Bob Burchette, a retired writer/editor at the Greensboro News & Record can be contacted at [email protected].)