December 16, 2002
COLUMBIA — At Oak Hills Community Church, it’s OK to drink coffee during services. The new church even has its own flavor – Oak Hills Blend. On Sunday mornings, worshippers sit around tables savoring warm cups of it while pastor Geoff Gairrett gives multi-media presentations.
Look closer and you can see that Gairrett is wearing an earring.
For most people, Oak Hills is unlike any church they’ve ever seen, which makes church leaders pleased.
"We definitely don’t want to be viewed as a normal church," said Gairrett, pastor of the church since its inception nearly a year ago.
The new church plant is reaching out to college students and young adults who have been turned off by traditional churches. They’ve found a receptive audience.
The church’s first worship service on Oct. 13, which featured a remote broadcast on a popular radio station, drew about 200 people. Weekly attendance since then has averaged 100.
"We have a lot of lost people," Gairrett said. "Our goal is to lead them in their journey of discovering God."
At Oak Hills, seekers outnumber believers by a ratio of three to one. Gairrett said most attenders fit into three groups: Those who have not had any contact with church; those who grew up Catholic and view faith as a ritual instead of a relationship; and those who have had bad experiences at churches.
When they attend Oak Hills, these seekers often say it’s not what they expected, but add they feel comfortable there.
God grew the vision for Oak Hills in several different people in recent years. Gairrett and his wife, Richelle, grew up in Moberly and have had been in ministry for more than 15 years, most recently serving in Oregon.
"We just sensed He wanted us to come back home and plant a church," Gairrett said. "We just couldn’t help but believe that God had planted the same vision in other people’s hearts."
They moved with their three children to central Missouri and contacted Jerry Field, coordinator of evangelism and church planting for the Missouri Baptist Convention. They learned that Second Baptist Church of Springfield was praying about starting a church in Columbia.
"Immediately it was a connection. We just knew God was in this," Gairrett said.
Planning meetings began about a year ago. Oak Hills started holding weekly meetings in April and moved to its present location at Lange Middle School in July.
Former members of Second Baptist of Springfield, Shane Schoeller and his wife moved to Columbia several months ago, knowing a church plant was in the works.
"We wanted to be involved anyway we could," said Schoeller, chairman of the advisory team.
He’s seen both the challenges and blessings of a new church work.
"Anytime you start a church, you realize it takes time," he said. "But you also have the realization that you’re beginning something to reach people who don’t know Christ."
So far, Oak Hills has had seven baptisms. The media-savvy generation Oak Hills is targeting wants to see genuine, authentic faith and Gairrett said the church has never wavered from its conservative doctrine.
"People that are really lost are wanting conservative beliefs," he said.
At Oak Hills, cutting edge worship and conservative theology can go together.
"You can’t change the truth. Our goal is to share the truth, but you can use other methods to tell it," Schoeller said.
Church leaders have been purposeful to develop a contemporary image without compromising their beliefs, Gairrett said. Like the coffee, it’s a special Oak Hills blend that has a rich flavor.
"We continue to see people’s lives changed," Gairrett said. "People are finding value and significance and they want to bring other people to find that, too." For more information Oak Hills, visit its Web site at www.oakhillsproject.org.