by Russell Carstens
In 2001 a group of Christian youth leaders from Monmouth County, New Jersey churches began gathering regularly for prayer. Their goal—figure out where God was calling them. They discerned God’s leading to begin a high school outreach in Red Bank, where countless teenagers spend their days and nights socializing in stores, coffee shops, and perhaps most importantly, parks.
Christian Andrews ’99, ’02 ThM is a founder of Outreach Red Bank (ORB) and is now the lead pastor at Park Church
. At the Seminary, Andrews has served as adjunct faculty teaching “Missional Theology and Practice” alongside Darrell Guder in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
A grateful graduate, Andrews employs fine-tuned learning skills from seminary in his current ministry. He says, "My time at Princeton was a real gift. The most important thing I learned at seminary was how to learn. For years I participated in a theological reading group led by George Hunsinger
. We read two or three pages from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics
a week. George would unfold the arguments with such skill. In the process, I learned how to read theology, and how to pay attention in a way I had never learned."
Andrews also drew inspiration from other areas of seminary life. He adds, "I also found the preaching instruction of Cleophus LaRue
to be exceptionally stimulating. He made me want to learn to preach."
Initially under Andrew’s leadership, ORB’s goal was not to start a church, but to simply live the gospel with Red Bank's youth. Over time, more youths became connected and declared themselves Christians. The adult population was spearheaded as the young congregation started bringing parents to services. The leaders realized that they needed space to worship regularly, as they were naturally becoming a multigenerational church. It also became apparent that ORB needed a new name.
Matt Agresti ’10 serves beside Andrews as the worship and communication director for the congregation. Agresti says that among other factors, “The name ORB no longer fit the vision God was giving us. Now we want to reach all of Monmouth County.”
Park Church's mission is still the same—to reach people who don't know Christ. Although the name ORB worked well for high school students because it was unusual and provoked curiosity, for adults it could be taken as strange. Agresti says, “Having to explain your name isn't a great tool to help you reach out to people.” ORB had served its purpose, but in January 2014 its leaders knew it was time for a change. After the congregation offered suggestions, a small group was formed to brainstorm and make the final decision.
The name “Park Church” was eventually pitched by Agresti. He says, “It occurred to us that the original vision for ORB was to reach high school kids who primarily hung out in Marine Park in Red Bank, where hundreds of kids congregated. Also, parks are places that are for everyone to find life and fellowship. We have to make a place that's welcoming for everyone, that calls people to the community and splendor of God, and that inspires people to follow Christ. For outsiders and newcomers it's a name that's simple and makes sense. But for people who have been a part of the church, the name carries the challenge to reach out, be inviting and be inspiring.”
Andrews adds, “We are still called every day to go to places out in the world where ordinary people gather, like that in that first park. We are meant to be a church here, as witnesses to the Good News that in Christ, God has set things right.”
After years of worshiping in homes, movie theaters, church basements, and graciously borrowed space from the Monmouth Church of Christ in nearby Tinton Falls, it is finally the season for Park Church to have its own building. In January, Park Church signed a lease for a warehouse space in Tinton Falls. The plan is to convert the over ten thousand square foot area into a sanctuary with 250 seats. There will also be offices and classrooms. Construction started this summer with the goal of moving in-between October and Christmas. “We're ecstatic,” says Agresti. Fittingly, this new location's address is 31 Park Road.
Park Church wants the surrounding community to know they “believe that God loves everyone.” Agresti adds, “We want to be a church that welcomes people's hunger for God, as well as their questions and skepticism while presenting God and the Christian story in a way that's compelling, intelligent, and faithful. Christ is where real life is and we want to call people to share that life.”
Agresti credits Princeton Seminary for “the tools necessary to continue to listen to God's self-witness in scripture and to read theology to help me put it all together in order to be faithful to this mission. It helped form me to think theologically, missiologically, and Christologically for the ministry set before Park Church.”
For more information, visit Park Church’s web site