Ted Haggard’s new church has a long way to go before it qualifies as a megachurch, but it’s growing quickly and will soon be moving from Haggard’s barn to the Pikes Peak Center.
New Life Church grew from a handful of people meeting in Haggard’s home into a congregation of 14,000 based in north Colorado Springs that gave Haggard a national stage and political influence.
Haggard, who was forced to leave New Life Church in disgrace in November 2006 after a scandal involving a male prostitute and drug use, has said he has no ambition to lead such a large congregation again.
Nevertheless, Haggard’s St. James Church is gaining members quickly since its first service five weeks ago in the Haggards’ barn.
Attendance Sunday was about 245, a 44 percent increase since the first service. Congregants, some of whom came from Denver and Cañon City to attend, stood three deep at the barns’ entrance when space inside filled, several sources say.
Haggard said Monday he will being holding services at the Pikes Peak Center on July 25, in part because St. James has outgrown his barn, but also because the insurer that holds the policy on his home won’t cover the church’s meetings.
“We have to go now,” Haggard said. “We have no choice.”
He’s not sure which space he’ll be leasing at Pikes Peak Center, but it probably will be Studio B, a small auditorium that seats about 250.
The start of St. James comes 25 years after Haggard began New Life and almost four years after he resigned as New Life’s senior pastor in the wake of the sex scandal.
Haggard’s main theme at St. James has been that church leaders have become too judgmental. His sermons have focused on the importance of helping those who have fallen or struggled in life. “It’s God’s role to judge, the devil’s role to accuse and our role to encourage,” he said at the first St. James service.
He’s spread his message through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Most of those attending services heard about St. James through friends and media reports. A large number are former New Life members.
Tom Pesavento attended New Life from 1989 till 2007 and is now a St. James member. “At this early stage, the people I know who have been coming are more interested in taking care of others,” Pesavento said. “It’s not our place to judge. It’s our place to love and help if we can.”
Lisa Vanbebber was a New Life member from 1994 till 2008. “He is such a gifted, amazing pastor,” Vanbebber said. “You leave the service and you have a tangible lesson you can bring to the workplace and everyday life.”
Paul Harvey, a professor of American religious history at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, predicts St. James will continue to grow with Haggard at the helm.
“He’ll have a thousand or two within a couple years,” Harvey said. “He’s good at what he does. He clearly knows how to attract people.”
For more on Haggard, go to Barna’s blog, “The Pulpit”