By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
Contemporary Christian music echoes through the halls at the Zephyrhills YMCA Sunday mornings. It is the sound of New Walk Church, a radically different place of worship where the pastor wears faded jeans and the choir is a rock band.
That doesn’t change the fact New Walk has one purpose: to spread the message of Jesus Christ.
“Our church has a casual style but we are serious about our faith,” said Gary Baldus, lead pastor. “We feel there are a lot of barriers in the traditional church like dress code. We eliminate those barriers so that God can change peoples’ hearts.”
New Walk opened in October 2006. Galdus, formerly youth pastor at Cross Light Church, was approached by the General Baptist denomination about starting a contemporary church in Zephyrhills. He accepted the challenge without hesitation.
“I lived in the community and felt there was a need for a church that would be different,” Galdus said.
The church, sponsored by General Baptist, opened with 200 seats and 80 attendees. Today, more than 800 people attend services each week, making it one of the largest Zephyrhills churches. The congregation is made up of all ages, from children to seniors.
Dianne Mcinerney, 58, is excited to be a part of New Walk.
“It’s a joy to wake up and realize it’s Sunday, because we get to go to church,” she said. “I have lovely memories of my time in traditional churches but I don’t want to dwell there. I want to be a part of what is contemporary in this day. That is New Walk.”
New Walk’s 11-person staff is made up of believers age 21 to 52. Jacob Hill, 21, is the church’s worship pastor. He helped start the church in 2006, when he was only 17.
“I was living in Missouri and was leading worship at my church there when I was approached by General Baptist about moving to Florida,” he said. “I had to ask my parents. I thought they’d say no way are you moving across the country but we all took a trip to Zephyrhills and my parents said they thought it was the place I was supposed to be.”
Hill sings and plays guitar, mastering worship hits by artists like Chris Tomlin and Brandon Heath. His blonde-streaked hair and torn jeans aren’t the typical church uniform. He isn’t concerned about appearances. It’s all about the music.
“The music we play is what you hear on Christian radio,” Hill said. “It’s very, well, some people call it cool. It’s all about God. Jesus said, ‘Sing unto me a new song,’ and that it is what we’re about.”
Hill and Galdus reject the idea that contemporary churches like New Walk present a watered-down version of Christianity.
“It’s a misconception some traditional churches have,” Galdus said. “They see a church like ours growing quickly and think, well it must not be about Jesus. Anybody that comes to New Walk knows it’s all about God from the time you walk in.”
Brent Wernsing is media director for the church. He designs graphics for Sunday services and for marketing campaigns. He started as a member in 2007. He and wife, Christine, were looking for a church geared toward a younger generation. When Wernsing saw he could wear shorts and a ball cap to New Walk, he was convinced.
“What first attracted me was the music and the messages were relevant to my life,” he said.
Galdus, a married father of two, doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like pornography, greed and marital problems.
“With me, nothing is off the table,” he said. “I talk about what some churches are scared to talk about.”
Mcinerney said the messages are inspiring.
“They are about living the walk not just on Sundays but throughout the week,” she said.
The church’s current sermon series is called “Divided.”
“It’s about how there is saying you’re a Christian and then there’s actually living like a Christian,” Hill said. “It’s about fully coming to Christ. I invite anyone who thinks we are just a feel-good church to listen to this series.”
Galdus attributes the growth at New Walk to the church’s no-nonsense approach. He said the church attracts all types because it doesn’t require people to fit a certain mold. He sees the seniors dancing alongside 20somethings and smiles.
“We drive people to the next step and challenge them to grow as Christians,” he said. “When you look at scripture, at who Jesus hung around with and how he was dressed, Jesus came to break down all the rules and to build a bridge to God.”
For information on New Walk Church visit www.mynewalk.com. Service times are 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon Sundays at the Zephyrhills YMCA, 37301 Chapel Hill Loop.