The Varsity Theatre has a new act.
Anchor Chapel, a “church-without-walls” founded and co-pastored by Josh and Brooke Bourgeois, will launch at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, in the historic theater just outside LSU’s North Gate.
“Jesus said we are to seek and to save those that are lost. That’s why we want to meet here,” said Josh Bourgeois, 34. “We don’t believe that church should be a place that you have to jump through all kinds of hoops before you can belong. We want to meet people right where they are.”
The Varsity, located at 3353 Highland Road, is famous for its party atmosphere, which is why the couple said they want to meet there.
“I’ve always loved the idea of being in the Varsity. I’d never been there, but I always knew what it was and what it stood for and what kind of things happened there,” Josh Bourgeois said. “But, man, what an incredible opportunity to bring light to a fairly dark place, a place known for partying, a place known for what may be, in some people’s minds, very sinful living. That’s really the heart of what we want Anchor to be. Our motto is, ‘A place of hope for every soul.’
“You don’t have to know anything about God, you don’t even have to know you believe in him to come here,” Josh Bourgeois said.
“We believe that God’s spirit will be in the Varsity. When we’re singing songs and the word is being preached, that people will sense and feel something that they didn’t feel the night before,” Brooke Bourgeois said. “This is the same place that it was, but now there is something different in here. We’re banking on the fact that the Holy Spirit shows up, and people will know that God is real.”
The couple has been crafting the ministry for the last year or so, slowly building a team of about 60 friends and interested acquaintances who have been meeting in homes and coffee shops. They have two trailers filled with sound and video gear, the band’s instruments and banners, chairs and other furniture for the main service in the dance hall and another children’s area in a nearby coffee shop.
Because they are renting the space for only a few hours on Sunday mornings, Josh Bourgeois says they’ll set up at 7 a.m., rehearse and set up the hospitality tables and kids’ ministry. Services will be at 10 a.m.
Then they will “tear it all down and pack into the trailers and do it again next week,” Josh Bourgeois said.
Chi Alpha Campus Ministry has a coffee shop 50 steps from the Varsity, Brooke Bourgeois, 35, said.
“Kids’ ministry is really important to us,” she said. “They will let us use their coffee shop as a kids’ annex, and we’ll have nursery in the Green Room.”
Baton Rouge already has hundreds of churches, so why start another one?
“There are a lot of people we’ve met so far that have never gone to church or did go to church and have dropped out and are not involved anywhere,” Josh Bourgeois said. “A lot of people think that some churches are building a kingdom. Some people feel every church is the same. We feel that meeting in the Varsity and being in a place that is traditionally known as a dark place, it takes down some walls that they see from the outside.
“They’re not necessarily turned off to Jesus, they just don’t like church,” he said. “We’re definitely not the anti-church, but we’re not going to look like the traditional church.”
Both Josh and Brooke Bourgeois grew up in the Thibodaux-Houma area, both in Christian homes and both attended Assemblies of God churches. They both accepted Jesus Christ as their savior at a young age and dedicated their lives to Christian service as teens at summer camp.
They met while attending Nicholls State University and got married.
He left college to work in construction while she finished her degree and pursued ministry as a singer, keyboard player and worship leader. They served a few years as youth pastors in a small church and then most recently served at Living Word Church at Houma.
They attended a 2005 church planting conference held at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, sponsored by ARC, the Association of Related Churches.
Headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, ARC is a nationwide coalition of hundreds of mostly Pentecostal churches that helps young couples start churches using a very successful methodology of funding and strategic planning.
“I remember sitting there in the audience hearing one of the young church planter’s stories of how much it cost them and how crazy of a step of faith that would be to step out and plant a church,” Josh Bourgeois said. “And I remember looking at Brooke and saying ‘I think we may be made for this.’ It was birthed in us then. We got hungry to plant a church and it never went away.”
While they have followed the ARC model, they have not accepted ARC funding, the couple said, and their goal is to follow the success of the Hillsong ministry based in Australia.
While they will be meeting near the LSU campus, they are not a college church.
“Obviously we want to reach college kids, but we are also reaching out to young families,” Brooke Bourgeois said.
“We just want people to know Jesus,” Josh Bourgeois added. “We don’t want people to think we’re against church — we grew up in church. We just want people who are searching for Jesus to be able to find him and to hear how much he loves them.”
For information, visit anchorchapel.com.