Moving back home to save money has become almost cliché for millennials. The Miller brothers, Josh, 26, and Jonathan, 24, are no exception. At the beginning of 2017, they temporarily moved the church they co-founded two years ago from its Near Southside location in the World Languages Institute to their parents’ living room, hoping to stay afloat until their prayers for cheaper rent were answered.
Running an entire two-hour church service complete with coffee and homemade snacks in their parents’ small house off McCart Avenue wasn’t the most ideal setup, the brothers told me. However, they said the couches were an upgrade from their “pews” –– annoying stackable hard-plastic chairs. Parents Greg and Lucy were fully supportive of their kids’ money-saving efforts. But the brothers knew they needed a new home for their church. “The biggest reason … is that we want to be able to bring in more people,” Josh said.
And now they have.
Amphibian Stage Productions’ managing director, Linsey Retcofsky, recently opened the pearly gates of her theater on South Main Street to the brothers’ Innovate Church.
“They seemed like a good group and nice guys,” Retcofsky said.
Retcofsky said that Amphibian has leased out space to a handful of small churches in its five years on the Near Southside but had never inked a long-term deal. Until now.
“We have such a crazy schedule that long-term commitments are difficult,” Retcofsky said. “Something that stood out in Jonathan’s email is that he requested Sunday evenings, which is unusual. I thought, wow, this could actually work, so I said let’s try it.”
We introduced readers to the Millers and Innovate last year (“My Brother’s Keeper,” July 27, 2016). During a recent service, Pastor Jonathan preached from the pulpit while wearing jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt, and he bounded around the room while reenacting a mountain bike crash (part of a sermon about good Samaritans). The casually dressed congregation laughed and appeared to have a good time.
Since their humble beginnings in 2016, Pastors Josh and Jonathan and their worship leader, 29-year-old Danny Manzano, Innovate has maintained an informal, youthful vibe. At Innovate, instead of members conforming to the expectations of the church, the church lovingly accepts all and works for them. During a typical service, Danny could be seen strumming his guitar while sporting what he calls “the Walmart Look”: a full beard and black socks with flip-flops.
Moving back home wasn’t Innovate’s only change in 2016. At the end of the summer, Danny moved to New York City to pursue other works. Some things never change, though.
“Despite losing our live music and moving back home, we’ve still been growing,” Jonathan said. “With the addition of new families, we found the new building at a perfect time.
“We want organic growth,” he continued. “We’re not trying to build a mega-church. Our goal is to be there for you so that you can be there for the world.”
With a new lease on their ministry, the Millers held a soft opening service at their church at 120 South Main St. on Nov. 11. The brothers are taking this opportunity to give their church some modern upgrades, including new sound equipment and better lighting.
“We knew we were going to rent our next location,” Josh said. “We didn’t want to worry about upgrades and rent at the same time, so we bought our upgrades in advance. Everything we bought, including new multimedia equipment, is all to help our ministry efforts.”
Following a nationwide trend, the Millers put their sermons online and have a YouTube channel with a handful of videos they’ve made, but what sets them apart is that they would rather see you in their new building than see you following them on Twitter or SnapChat.
“At the heart of it, we’re still a small church,” Jonathan said. “We’re not too stressed about our online presence. We’re online but want our focus to be in person. We have some Innovate original content out there, but that’s never going to be our main focus. We care more about getting to know real people than online popularity.”
The Millers plan to run the business side of things like an Apple Store.
“When you go to an Apple Store, what happens?” Josh said. “When you walk in, you don’t see a cash register. Anyone with a blue shirt on can assist you. We are going to continue that, only in our church.”
Thanks to the move, not only does their parents’ house not have to look its Sunday best every week, but their vision for a sleek, small house of worship is now possible. Their tentative plan is to begin redesigning their services to loosely fit the Apple store model in 2018, slowly bring in new members, and eventually do some outreach projects on the Near Southside.