Renegade Church has come-as-you-are environment
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 26, 2010 at 5:26 a.m.
Bard Letsinger is a Harley-Davidson riding, Jesus-loving, renegade. He's also a non-denominational pastor who bucks the traditions of conventional church.
It's fitting then, that he would conceptualize Renegade Church, a house of worship where fellow "churched bad boys" would feel welcome and spiritually nourished.
"I wanted to build a church I would feel comfortable attending," Letsinger, 41, said, discussing his new church plan in Victoria. "Our goal is to keep churchy people out, the people who think they're 'too good,' and reach people other churches aren't reaching."
Renegade's concept was born at Olive Garden on Jan. 4, 2010, while taking his wife, Mollie Letsinger, out for their anniversary. After his departure from Parkway Church, Letsinger said he was more motivated than ever to consider planting his own church.
"My wife asked me what was keeping me from starting my own church, and I told her I didn't want to fail," he said. "She handed me a gift that night, a plaque that read, 'What would you do for God if you knew you couldn't fail? I just started crying and said, 'I guess we're starting a church.'"
For about nine weeks, Renegade Church has met in a former Aaron Rents Furniture warehouse on Navarro Street. From the outside, the building doesn't at all appear church-like. Inside, however, Renegade's space emits a relaxed, welcoming tone, something of a Christian coffee house retreat.
"It's a come-as-you-are environment, there's no dress code." Letsinger said. "It's more like a coffee shop than a traditional church."
And while the warehouse church building fits Letsinger's unconventional church concept, it's a substantial departure from Renegade's first meeting location - Dodge City Night Club.
Last May, still searching for a space to kick-off Renegade's Sunday services, Letsinger was presented with the option of hosting the church at Dodge City, near shelves of Budweiser and Jose Cuervo.
Recalling the offer, he laughed, then added, "It couldn't have been another way.
"Meeting at the bar was just one of those goofy God things," Letsinger said, remembering the sounds of children pushing billiards balls into the pool table pockets while he preached.
"I said I was willing to do anything for God as long as it wasn't unbiblical, unethical or illegal. The bar was available, and we needed a space."
Through the summer, Renegade Church's services were held at Dodge City, gradually garnering a reputation for its avant-garde method of spreading the message of Christianity.
"You have to remember that Christ didn't hang out with churchy people. He chastised the overly religious," Letsinger said. "I'm willing to do anything short of sin to reach people for God."
When the bar's ownership changed hands, Letsinger once again set out to find another church space, eventually landing at the Aaron Rents Furniture warehouse.
"It needed a lot of work when we moved in here, and basically through the help of volunteers, we've been able to fix it up," Letsinger said.
Renegade moved into its new location just after Labor Day, and has been slowly building its church body.
"We've got about 70 people who come off and on," Letsinger said. "They're mostly non-churched, de-churched, or new to church, but every week, we've got new people checking us out."
Letsinger unapologetically said he wants Renegade Church to be life-changing, not simply a place to attend Sunday morning and leave the message behind the rest of the week.
"I don't pull any punches, that's not how I teach. How are we ever going to reach the world if we stay in our holy huddles?" Letsinger said. "When we're comfortable there, we're probably not doing anything meaningful for God. I do this because it's what I'm called to do. God won't let me do anything else."