Love Alive Church is enjoying rave reviews.
The high-energy church that launched in a Baton Rouge movie theater four years ago and now holds services in a building on Jones Creek Road has become a big hit with more than 500 people attending four services each Sunday.
"There's amazing things happening," said the Rev. Ronaldo Hardy, pastor. "We have been able to build a unique culture for a church in our city, and I think that has contributed to our rapid growth."
Hardy and his wife, Cristian, both 35, are lead pastors of the church at 5522 Jones Creek Road.
Services usually last about an hour.
"That's something that people appreciate," Hardy said. "It's a cool experience. It's an anointed experience."
"We're just a group of young people who love God and are on a mission to change the world," said 38-year-old Remiah Trask, the church's worship and creative pastor who oversees the music, technology, digital, marketing, video and social media along with his wife, Nikyla.
The church's contemporary worship experience has attracted enthusiastic kids, youth and the young adult crowd. But Hardy said the church is striving to be multigenerational and multicultural.
"We've been able to focus our ministry in a way that the experience appeals to a wide audience," said Hardy, who started preaching at 18, following his father, Ronald Hardy, and grandfather into the ministry.
Hardy acknowledges the challenges of building diversity for a black pastor. He said Love Alive hasn't turned its back on the elements of black culture.
"Sometimes in our pursuit of diversity, especially when you're African-American, there's this need to kind of give up things that are the cultural norm. We haven't done that," he said. "We push for a true multicultural experience. We've started to blend multiple cultures in our approach to music, ministry style, all of that."
Church leaders want the services to be approachable, not intimidating.
"I preach in jeans and LeBrons (shoes) every Sunday. If I don't have LeBrons, I have Jordans," Hardy said. "It's that mindset, too. You don't have that barrier up — what am I going to wear to church? Just be comfortable, and we're going to see that it's a great experience. People are being touched and minds being changed and people are developing a deeper relationship with Christ."
Another aspect that has attracted younger churchgoers and others is Love Alive's willingness to speak to matters that concern them, Hardy said.
"We're seeing a large amount of young people coming to our church, and we've been super-effective in reaching people who are agnostic — one step from not believing in God at all. But people got tired of the church not paying attention to issues that matter to them," he said. "Our church is very much focused on social justice."
He said the church follows the lead of Jesus.
"Jesus was a social revolutionary," he said. "While Jesus was on the earth, it was the one time where the government and the church were united. And they united in the idea that they did not like Jesus, because he was disrupting their environment."
Hardy said the church has an obligation to become involved in those issues just as Jesus did.
"When I look at the scripture, Jesus didn't just pray, he got in the middle of what was happening," he said. "I look at something that the law says is permissible but is not right."
Hardy pointed to the church's challenge to laws that once prevented blacks from voting.
"The law said it was permissible at the time, but it wasn't right," he said.
He also referenced the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
"When you look at what happens with the adulterous woman, the law at that time said she should be stoned to death for what she had done, but Jesus said, 'I know what the law says, but it's not right.' He didn't just hold a prayer meeting," Hardy said. "The point is Jesus got in the middle of it. The church has to understand the importance of getting in the middle of social issues, understanding when they may be permissible, but they are not right and when we should do something about it."
The lack of involvement in social issues has hurt churches, he said.
"I believe that's where the distrust is happening, especially generationally," Hardy said. "That's why young people are leaving the church."
But they're finding a home at Love Alive.
"You will see people who are excited to be at church," Hardy said. "It will especially shock you to see how many young people are there and attuned and loving the experience."
Leading a church has been a long time coming, relatively speaking, for Hardy. At 12, he started as the worship leader at his father's church, Faith, Hope and Love.
Even as he worked in ministry, Hardy enjoyed a successful financial services career.
"(In 2013), the Lord really started speaking to me about needing to start this church," Hardy said.
Love Alive started meeting at the AMC Movie Theaters near the Mall of Louisiana on Jan. 11, 2015. Hardy said the church had 90 regular attendees by the end of that first year and 180 by end of 2016, the year in which the church moved to Jones Creek Road. By the end of 2017, attendance reached about 370, and entering 2019, between 550 and 600 are coming to services.
During last Sunday's services, Hardy shared with the church the vision for the new year and beyond, including missions and acquiring territory.
"I see Love Alive church growing," he said. "I see thousands of people coming. I see multiple campuses in the city and even outside the city."
It lines up with the church motto: "Find Family. Discover Purpose. Change the World."
"Ultimately, we want to keep on expanding our family with people who need to discover purpose, change the world, and we're trying to make a big impact," Hardy said. "To us, it's more important what we do Monday through Saturday than what we do on Sunday. Sunday is that opportunity to fuel the energy necessary to get out Monday through Saturday and make a difference."
Another day. Another blessing.
The way God showed up and showed for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the book of Daniel still leaves us amazed by the awesomeness of God. You know the story of how King Nebuchadnezzar had the three Hebrew boys thrown into a fiery furnace all night long.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had the courage and the faith to accept what God allowed — saving them or dying for their beliefs. Not only did the boys not burn, God joined them in the furnace in the person of the Christ.
Here's another aspect that amazes me about God and this story. In Daniel 3:28, the selfish King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants." The king had some praise for the God of the three Hebrew boys and acknowledged that they trusted in their God, defied the king’s commands and were willing to give up their lives for their God.
Then, get this, in Verse 29, the king decreed that "the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble." The king, who the day before wanted to burn to death the Hebrew boys, sent out a notice that anyone who dared mess with them or say anything bad about them or their God would have a heavy price to pay.
If we hold on to our convictions, our beliefs, our faith in God, he will take care of us, give us favor and even have our enemies doing favors for us.