Members of the congregation of The Journey, in St. Louis, sing at the beginning of the service.
( Sarah Conard | Special to the Post-Dispatch/P-D)
In a back room at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, about 50 people
gathered on a recent Wednesday night to talk rock ‘n’ roll.
Why are Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain considered by some to be messiahs?
When did rock music lose its edge and become another product
manufactured and marketed by huge conglomerates such as Viacom?
It was a conversation perfectly suited to the setting. Beer-stained
wooden tables and the smell of hops complemented a free-flowing,
spirited debate among hip young people in scruffy beards and T-shirts.
In 2007, this is church.
Theology at the Bottleworks is run by a wildly successful
congregation of young St. Louisans called The Journey. The Schlafly
program is part of the church’s outreach ministry. And it works.
Every month dozens show up at the brewpub to drink beer and talk about
issues ranging from racism in St. Louis to modern art controversies to
the debate about embryonic stem cell research. First-timers are invited
to check out the church on Sunday, and Journey leaders say many have.
Theology at the Bottleworks is just one of The Journey’s ministries,
but it has helped the church grow from 30 members in late 2002 to 1,300
The Rev. Darrin Patrick, The Journey’s founder and lead pastor, says
its nontraditional approach is aimed at those who are not likely to
“We want to go where people are,” he said. “We don’t expect them to come to us.”
For nearly two years, the beer ministry has brought new members to the
church. Now it’s being called unbiblical. The Journey defines itself as
an interdenominational church, but it has a working relationship with
the Missouri Baptist Convention. That confederation of Baptist churches
is the state arm of the largest Protestant denomination in the country,
the theologically and socially conservative Southern Baptist
In 2005, The Journey borrowed $200,000 from the Baptist organization to
help buy and renovate a former Catholic church in St. Louis. In
December Baptist leaders began questioning the church’s methods of
attracting worshippers, specifically its use of alcohol.
At last year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention,
members overwhelmingly reaffirmed their traditional stance on alcohol
by passing a resolution that expressed “our total opposition to the
manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic
beverages.” Baptists within the denomination who oppose such a strict
view of alcohol use argue that the Southern Baptist position is based
on denominational tradition, not Scripture.
A different appeal
The Journey is part of what sociologists of religion call the emerging church movement.
“Emerging congregations offer a radically different style of worship
that appeals to certain kinds of young folks,” said Scott L. Thumma of
the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
The Rev. Bill Edwards, chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s
church planting subcommittee, said he had received a number of calls
from Missouri Baptists complaining about The Journey’s website, some
pages of which depict or suggest drinking beer and wine. Last month,
the organization’s executive board formed a committee to investigate
The Journey and assess the Missouri Baptist Convention’s position on
the emerging church movement.
Kerry Messer, a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive
board, said that he had attended The Journey’s December Theology at the
Bottleworks program and that what he had seen worried him.
“Beer being served as part of a church presentation sends mixed
messages to the community and causes confusion,” Messer said. “Had we
known about this before the loan was approved, I would have openly
spoken out against a financial relationship being established.”
The Journey, he said, represents “a movement that compromises the
positions, beliefs and doctrines of the Baptist church in order to
attract people to theirs.”
Praise for pastor
At the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in October, the organization had a very different take on The Journey.
Executive director, the Rev. David Clippard, singled out the church in
front of 1,200 Baptist leaders as an ideal model. Clippard noted The
Journey’s median age of 29 and its explosive growth, raining praise on
Patrick, 36, is a former star high school athlete from Marion, Ill.,
who found himself in trouble one week in his junior year at Marion
High. The self-described “party jock” had been bounced from the
football team for drinking, suspended from school for fighting and
believed his girlfriend was pregnant. That’s when Patrick turned to
At Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., Patrick found he had a
talent for talking to people about God. He noticed that members of some
crowds — particularly athletes and artists — who were searching for
spirituality didn’t connect with the traditional church structure.
After Patrick received his master’s of divinity at Midwest Baptist
Seminary in Kansas City, his church there agreed to pay his salary for
three years so Patrick and his wife, Amie, could start The Journey.
The couple didn’t know anyone in St. Louis, so Patrick spent months
trawling open-mike nights in Soulard for musicians and approaching
strangers in coffeehouses to ask if they’d like to come to church in
By late 2002 they had a core group of 30 members. By the end of 2003,
the group had grown to 120. The congregation had moved to rented space
at the Center of Clayton, then moved again to space at Hanley Road
Baptist Church, also in Clayton. Membership doubled in each of the next
In December 2005, The Journey put down $425,000 to buy Holy Innocents
Catholic Church, west of Tower Grove Park, for $1.65 million, and spent
another $500,000 to renovate the interior. Nearly half the down payment
came from the Missouri Baptist Convention loan.
Patrick and his congregation moved into their new church in May and
have already outgrown it. Two packed Sunday morning services are
supplemented with a Sunday evening service back at Hanley Road Baptist
Church. Another Sunday morning service will begin in west St. Louis
County next month.
The Journey also starts, or “plants,” new churches outside The Journey
brand name. In September it planted the Refuge Church in St. Charles;
it is scouting sites in Illinois.
Sense of belonging
On a recent Sunday, 500 twenty-somethings, dressed in jeans and fleece
jackets, carried Starbucks cups and dog-eared Bibles into The Journey’s
nave before the 11 a.m. service, greeting each other with hugs and
The music of Sufjan Stevens poured through the sound system as church
notices flashed on the big screen above the sanctuary and the four
wide-screen plasma monitors hanging above the pews. As the service
began, a six-piece worship band played a few rousing tunes and then
Patrick, dressed in khakis and a brown sweater, began to preach.
For an hour, Patrick cited Genesis, Proverbs, Ephesians and 1
Corinthians to drive home his message for this Sunday: Men like risk.
Men need to be challenged, and a “less-than-masculine” church is doing
little to challenge them. Men need to take responsibility for their
lives, their families, their spiritual well-being.
The goal of many pastors in emerging churches is to make Christianity
relevant to young people. In his sermon, Patrick touched on a subject
not often broached from a traditional pulpit, telling married men in
his pews, “The hottest sex in St. Louis should be in your bedroom.”
Its leaders’ willingness to take on issues that directly relate to their lives attracts many young people to The Journey.
“Younger people are looking for a sense of belonging,” said church member Jason Froderman, 25.
Patrick said all the Journey campuses were united in one mission: to
serve the poor in the city of St. Louis. That work puts The Journey and
the Missouri Baptist Convention on the same page, according to Patrick.
“We look at the Missouri Baptists as a group that wants to start
churches and help the poor,” he said. It was this common mission that
led to the $200,000 from the Baptist organization, which Patrick said
was an unsolicited loan.
Despite opposition from some Missouri Baptists, Patrick said he would continue working with the organization.
“When you partner with other people you invite conflict,” he said. “But
if we’re both going in the same general direction, why not link arms?”