Members of the High Tide Baptist congregation might not have a chapel to call home, but that isn’t slowing them down any.
Rather, people seeking spirituality — without the formality — seem to be flocking to the lighthearted gathering.
Pastor Andy Ehlers is more likely to wear blue jeans than a cassock.
The band strums light melodies for simple songs of praise that nearly everyone can pick up after a few stanzas.
There’s no fumbling though bulletins or hymnals — the lyrics pop up on a large screen in a corner near the head of the room (next to where the altar would be, if there was one).
Ehlers delivers a sermon in everyday English. He quotes from the Bible, but doesn’t read from it extensively, and also intersperses references to modern authors.
He runs video clips, too.
And that’s just for the adults. The kids really have it good.
As Ehlers breaks down the message for the older folks, other High Tide volunteers have their hands full elsewhere around the school.
During service, they offer the Beach Babies and Tiny Tides for the little ones and “G-Force” activities for kindergarteners through fifth-graders.
According to Ehlers’ wife, Tanya, children are top priority at High Tide.
“The Bible is not a boring book, but the way we teach it can be, sometimes — and that’s the cool thing about G-Force,” she said. “We don’t really have any discipline problems, because they come into the gym and they sit right down in front — they can’t wait to see what we’re going to do, and they want to get involved with it.”
First, the children cluster around a colorful, space-age display, labeled “Prayer Power Plant,” for a Bible skit.
Then they break off into smaller group activities for a while.
On Jan. 30, Andrea Woolsey was demonstrating her understanding of how to keep the young ones occupied. Her group rattled off “T-H-A-N-K” as participants took turns hurrying to call out something they felt thankful for.
The other volunteers led their groups in games with similar themes.
Woolsey eventually returned to the Prayer Power Plant to emcee a Bible trivia game show, and there were plenty of raised hands in evidence.
According to Ehlers, this early exposure to spirituality was extremely important.
“By age 9, children have already developed the standards and morals — their values,” he said. “We see how important it is that we help parents, and we’ve got to help children to realize and structure them to develop those standards.
“Otherwise, we’re going to let people outside our homes (television and movie stars, for instance) dictate those standards to them,” Ehlers pointed out.
As an unexpected bonus, he said G-Force was building up the adult congregation, too.
“Some of the parents had never been to church,” he noted. “They just came to bring their kids, but then some of them slid over for the (worship) service, and they’ve been coming back ever since.”
High Tide also offers similar children’s activities during “Parents’ Night Out,” and runs a highly popular midweek youth ministry at Sea Colony Tennis Center, called “Wave Riders.”
“This is what really blew me away about it — 40 percent of those kids had come to High Tide before, but 60 percent had no affiliation,” Ehlers said. “Maybe we had an outreach from the families and other parents found out, but these were all new kids.”
According to Woolsey, demand for the interactive dramas, videos, music, crafts and games was on the rise. She said there’d been as many as 70 children there at one time.
Meanwhile, adult attendance seems unaffected by off-season population fluctuations.
“A lot of people think summer is the biggest time of year, but two weeks ago (mid-January), we had 147 people,” Ehlers said. “That was our biggest service ever.”
Ehlers and his wife moved to Clarksville in 2002.
Shortly thereafter, with support from the Ocean View Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, they “planted” High Tide Baptist.
“We’d just be out walking the dog and ask people if they wanted to come, and they came,” Ehlers said. “There were 12 people at our first meeting.”
They had 38 people at their very first service.
When they aren’t at Lord Baltimore, small groups meet in different homes, all over town. “About one third of the people who were coming to our Sunday morning service weren’t going to church at all, or had never been in their life,” Ehlers pointed out. “We tried to create an atmosphere where that could happen.
“This is a church for people who don’t go to church,” he said.
For more information about High Tide Baptist, call 732-3303 or visit the Web site, www.hightidebaptist.org.