By Carl Stagner
Sushi show-and-tell. Milk and Cereal Pajama Sunday. Ugly sweater contests. Awkward family photos. Sound like the calendar for a typical church? The kind of outreach and fellowship activities seen at the Church of God congregation in Bremerton, Washington is certainly the kind that make the culture’s preconceived notions of church dissipate. Voyage is a church of “creative, flexible methodologies” but “inflexible theology.” That’s how Pastor Jerry Michaels puts it.
“We have unexpected, random events that throw people off and shake their perception of what going to church is like,” Michaels explains. “Emerging generations assume that church is boring and predictable.” In much of the Pacific Northwest, creating an opening to share the gospel means doing church differently.
“Most people are pretty turned off by Christianity in this area,” Michaels continues. “I gain entrance into people’s hearts by my attitude and actions, as much as by my words. Our church is a hybrid-community of Christ-followers and spiritual explorers. We are very accepting and nonjudgmental toward unbelievers. People know that they are loved no matter where they are spiritually, and yet we challenge people to repent and trust in Jesus.”
Voyage often has what they call hangout Sundays. There’s no preaching and no congregational singing. But there is plenty of food, fun, and relationship-building—all to the glory of God.
When Pastor Michaels does preach, it’s a bit atypical, as well. He allows for interjections, questions, and participation from the people. “It is difficult for modern people to sit through a forty-minute monologue. We do several things to combat listener fatigue, including having volunteers read the Scripture verses out loud, asking questions, using our screens to project relevant images throughout the message, splitting up into discussion groups, and having spokespersons report on group discoveries.” This unique format for message delivery enables anyone, regardless of spiritual maturity, to set out on a voyage of spiritual discovery. Perhaps that’s why they call it Voyage.
Actually, the name seemed very fitting on more than one level, according to Michaels. They’re situated in an area noted for waterways and naval bases, and the church is on an adventure to learn more about the Master of the Sea. “We also wanted a simple, single-word name that leaves room for people’s imaginations, and suggests we may offer something more than the average church that has a long, cumbersome name. Our voyage involves four stages: explore, discover, thrive, and impact.”
God led Michaels to start Voyage in 2009. Since then, God has shown up in some powerful and exciting ways. “The most rewarding thing for me has been rubbing shoulders with people who are all at different places spiritually. Before starting Voyage, I had found myself living in a Christian bubble; all of my friends were believers. These days about half of the people I hang out with are spiritual explorers. Recently, six of them crossed the line of faith and repentance and became Christ-followers.”