A new church, launched right in the middle of New Haven nightlife, wants to see New Haven change.
Journey Church, founded by pastor Felix Quinones, 31, had its first service last Sunday at a rented ballroom on Crown Street. The young pastor, who grew up in New Haven, has been reaching out to the community since last August and started the church with 28 on the launch team. The first service, held in a contemporary style, attracted 102 New Haven residents including children.
After serving in several churches in Detroit, Quinones returned to New Haven last year to launch his own.
“New Haven was always close to my heart,” he said. “There are 130,000 people in New Haven but only about 3.9 percent of those are reached by an evangelical church. We want to make Jesus famous here.”
The church has been pushing forward many community outreach efforts since last fall, including giving out granola bars on the street on busy Monday mornings. Last November it hosted a children’s fair attended by almost 300 people.
“I want our church to make a difference in the community,” Quinones said.
Jorge Vargas, Quinones’ cousin and a member of the church’s leadership team, said the outreach efforts were not only about advertising the new church, but also about “blessing people.” While he said not everybody was receptive to the church’s efforts, overall recruiting leading up the first service had been “very effective.”
Since he began preparing for the launch, the greatest challenge for Quinones has been finding a good place for service, which took more than six months for the young pastor. The ballroom they finally settled on is located in the center of downtown nightlife, housed in the same building as NYX Ultra Lounge, a dance club and bar.
“I know it can be crazy on Saturday nights,” said Quinones, “but it does not give us any special challenge. There are just as many broken people here as anywhere else.”
Kari Maidment, who joined Quinones in the move from Detroit to New Haven, said the central location will help draw followers from across demographics.
“We want younger and older, every race and background, from people living in the projects to doctors and lawyers downtown, Yale students and community college students,” she said. “We did not want to be somewhere that would culturally exclude us.”
Maidment, who said she came to New Haven “blind,” is now a member of Journey Church’s leadership team. Maidment said she had never lived on the East Coast and had only visited New York once, but she added that New Haven has been “such an easy city to fall in love with.”
The church has no proclaimed denomination, but Quinones received his credentials through Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal organization. Maidment said that the Elm City already has many active churches, but said she noticed “a lot of unreached people that aren’t going to church.” On a recent Sunday, during the St. Patrick’s Day parade, revelers filled the streets, apparently not planning to attend Sunday services, Maidment said, but she stood on a corner and invited people to worship at Journey Church.
“This is one of the least churched areas in the United States,” she said. “There was a need here.”
Journey Church has received financial and organizational support from the Association of Related Churches, a group based in Birmingham, Ala., with the goal of “planting” 2,000 new churches across the United States. In addition to Journey Church, ARC has supported Catalyst Church in Middletown and partnered with Vertical Church in West Haven.
Representatives from ARC could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
According to Maidment, ARC set benchmarks for Journey Church to meet, such as having a certain number of people on the leadership team, before it could receive matching funds.
“They’ve really equipped us for what we have to do,” Maidment said. “It’s like if we’re kids buying a house for the first time, and they’re our advisors. They have the know-how.”
New Haven’s first public worship was held beneath a large oak tree on April 18, 1638, the first Sunday after colonists arrived.