It’s been a decade since Pastor Josh Barrett opened a Bible study in the young city of Maricopa.
“We just wanted to practice church,” he said. “We didn’t want to say we were a church just yet.”
A group of about 10 people, whom he calls “the launch team,” met in the Barrett home for about four months before opening the Bible study to the public. It was a gathering of about 25 in the gym of the old high school at night, the only slot they could get.
Ten years later, that little group is 1,200 strong and is called the Church of Celebration.
May 15, the church will have a 10th-anniversary celebration at Copper Sky Regional Park, and the public is invited.
“We really didn’t want to do a ton of programming on this because we just wanted to celebrate what Church of Celebration is all about, which is relationships,” Barrett said. “We are opening that celebration to the entire city.”
The church has invited city officials, former staff members and even the Maricopa Fire Department, which will be in action cooling off celebrators. There will be a water slide, inflatables, family games and food trucks, where meals are $8 for adults and $5 for kids.
At dusk, Barrett has planned a “mini-program” to talk about what Church of Celebration has done in the community for the past 10 years.
“God’s done some pretty amazing things, and he’s not done,” he said.
There will be stations where celebrators can write down what Church of Celebration has meant to them. That will be followed by a video of the church’s history.
“It’s going to be a very, very casual, relaxed atmosphere,” Barrett said. “That’s what we are – trying to be Jesus to everybody.”
Created in a partnership with Vision Arizona, Church of Celebration blossomed from relationships built from established churches in the Valley and others gained in its early existence in Maricopa.
Barrett and his wife Ginger moved to Maricopa from Springfield, Missouri, with their two sons in September 2005. He has had ministries in Colorado and Missouri. After opening the Bible Study the following January, they “practiced church” for about four months.
“Then we officially launched in May 2006, on Mother’s Day, at night,” Barrett said. “If I had to do it over again I would tell every church, ‘Don’t plan at night on Mother’s Day.’ But we just embraced what was available to us at that point in time.”
By December, the church had grown to 150 people.
“My goal from the very beginning was to come to Maricopa and make Jesus’ name more famous,” Barrett said.
By then, Maricopa Unified School District had begun building more schools. In January 2007, Church of Celebration found morning space for its services in the new Maricopa Elementary School in Alterra.
“When we went mornings, we officially started growing,” Barrett said.
They started with two services and, after three months, grew to three services. In six months, the congregation was about 400 people. Less than two years later, Church of Celebration moved into more space at Maricopa Wells Middle School.
If You Go…
What: Church of Celebration 10th Anniversary
When: May 15, 5-7:30 p.m.
Where: Copper Sky Regional Park
In 2011, the church moved into the Performing Arts Center at the new high school. Participation in services any given Sunday is about 1,000.
“Our partnership with the school district has been amazing,” Barrett said. “We’re extremely grateful to MUSD.”
To show that gratitude over the years, the church has offered grants for school programs and left gifts for teachers whose rooms they use. They have also hosted teacher-appreciation lunches.
Perhaps most importantly, the church started Power Pack-Copa, a nonprofit that provides weekend meals for disadvantaged elementary students by packing backpacks with food. Barrett said he heard a speaker at a conference talk about hunger in the United States.
“He said the Evangelical church of American is something like a billion-dollar industry,” Barrett recalled. “’So,’ he says, ‘somebody tell me why there are people going hungry? Why are there kids still not being fed?’ So that really moved me and bothered me.”
That led to some local research, where church leaders discovered there were more than 100 kids in Maricopa who were going home on Fridays and not eating until Monday. They worked with the county health department to determine who the kids were and began stuffing bags and taking them to the schools for distribution.
Power Pack-Copa now serves seven elementary schools every week, feeding around 250 kids.
“If you read the Bible, it’s our job,” Barrett said. “It’s our job to take care of people who may have less than us. Our church has embraced that, and it’s just been huge.”
The Barretts now have three children, all adopted. Ginger Barrett leads the Children’s Ministry, which has 250-300 kids. The youth group is comprised of about 175 teens.
Church of Celebration also has two community outreach programs. One is a summer kids camp, a modern vacation Bible school. Last year that served 500-600 kids. For the past nine years, the church has hosted Maricopa Truck or Treat, drawing 10,000-12,000 participants for a safe, fun night on Halloween.
From the beginning, leaders envisioned having a church building of their own some day.
“We know in God’s time, when he opens that door, it’ll happen,” Barrett said. “But until then it would be next to impossible to replicate what we have available to us.”
For now, Barrett and his congregation stick to the early vision of introducing more Maricopans to Jesus.
“We have the motto “Gather, grow, give and go,” he said. “There’s an importance to gather with one another, there’s an importance to grow yourself and your relationship with Jesus. Give, that’s the natural byproduct of growing. You then go and do the same.”