In the upstairs library of the World Languages Institute, overlooking West Magnolia Avenue, the assembled Sunday morning crowd looked more like the audience of a standup comedy show than church parishioners. Pastor Jonathan Miller wore jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt as he bounced around while reenacting his mountain bike crash from a few weeks earlier. This was all part of Miller’s sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story about a traveler who is mugged and left for dead until being helped by someone who might have been thought of as an enemy.
The relaxed crowed laughed and lovingly heckled the young pastor. Miller, 23, compared the vision of himself lying in a ditch to the traveler in the biblical passage.
“Our mission statement at Innovate Church is to be here for people so they can be there for the world,” he said. “Our whole thing is we want to empower people to love others outside the church.”
Jonathan and older brother Josh Miller, 25, began Innovate in April in Fort Worth because they saw a need for outreach from a more youthful kind of ministry. They grew up as children of two ordained ministers, Greg and Lucy Miller. The brothers –– sans ordainment or other formal religious education –– created their own nondenominational church on the Near Southside.
“Fort Worth and the D/FW area has no shortage of churches,” Jonathan said. “It’s not like someone’s saying, ‘Aw, man. We just need another church.’ What we saw was a need for something new for people for whom church has become a routine.”
There’s no denying the two are brothers based on looks, although both approach life differently. Josh speaks from the pulpit in a polished yet passionate manner. Jonathan speaks in a lighthearted, narrative way, working comedy into to his messages.
One thing the Millers felt inclined to do was change the perception of some young people that church and religion are outdated, overly formal, and duplicitous. At Innovate, people come as they are on Sunday mornings, whether that means a suit and a tie or yoga pants.
“People come to church with this negative perception of its leaders and of God as this angry, judgmental God in the sky telling you what not to do,” Josh said. “What we’re doing is showing a different idea, of leaders who are not hypocritical, who admit that we’re flawed, too, and that we are all in this together.”
What began as weekly meetings on Sundays in their parents’ garage has grown into a respectable church that now attracts about 10 regulars.
Parishioner Danny Manzano said he has been attending Innovate since its first service and feels welcome at the church.
“The atmosphere’s amazing,” he said in an e-mail. “I’m positive everyone feels welcome, and loved, and fuzzy, and warm inside as soon as they walk in.”
Manzano currently helps with the worship music by playing guitar and does web design for the church.
The brothers had the idea to relocate their church after spending a day killing time leisurely walking around Magnolia. The two stopped for coffee at Brewed, where they were inspired by the quirky, youthful feel of the area.
“Before we started the church, we were with our dad at Brewed, and we wound up walking the streets looking at the buildings and just felt a calling about the area, that this is where we should start our ministry,” Jonathan said.
The younger brother said he took one look at the World Languages building and determined that it would be the setting for the pair’s house of worship.
The Miller brothers speak with the same passion and piety as much older church leaders. But if you saw them walking along Magnolia, the two fit in with the Near Southside’s hip, young, artsy vibe.
The area is full of trendy bars and restaurants, which makes it a somewhat unusual place for a traditional church. But its chic, urban setting made the space even more attractive to the brothers.
The Millers aren’t the only young guys trying to bring the word of God to the Near Southside. Paul Paine, president of Near Southside Inc., a nonprofit devoted to the neighborhood’s stability, said that community outreach and biblical study are nothing new to the area.
“Brewed has been doing a similar bible study and community outreach program, led by one of the owners, Joey Turner, for about the past four years,” he said.
The brothers might be young, but they’ve been around churches and worship services their whole lives. They traveled the country with their parents and helped build churches all around the country.
“Josh and I have worked every aspect of the church, like, literally since we were babies,” Jonathan said.
Josh earned his master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2015 and handles the business aspects of running the church.
Jonathan earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing online from Southern New Hampshire University that same year. He handles more of the outreach, daily operations, and creative side of the ministry.
“Josh and I are like complete opposites in so many ways,” Jonathan said. “We balance each other out, which is why this works.”
They want to spread a similar balance into the hearts and minds of local residents seeking spiritual fulfillment. Their church and their preaching techniques might be different from the norm, but their goals are the same as most any church that teaches the Gospel.
“We support and hope to guide people toward the truth,” Josh said. “Even though we have a new outlook on church, that doesn’t mean we give up the principles of church.”
Innovate Church meets 10:30am-noon every Sun in the World Languages Institute, 1066 W Magnolia Av, FW. Theinnovatechurch.com.