The marquee at the entrance of The Bridge church promises a unique approach to worship.
Paul Casola said his message is one for which he's not sure people are yet ready. He said his newly launched church -- The Bridge -- is a "grace and peace experiment."
The Bridge is advertised as "giving people a safe place to worship and find God's love."
"When we set out to do this, I told the guys, 'I don't know if Rockdale County or the surrounding area is ready for a church like this," Casola said.
"Rockdale County might want a church more narrow in its focus ... (We sent out cards and) somebody called when they got the card and said, 'I haven't heard anybody talk like this.' She said, 'You might just be talking.' I said, 'I can't say everybody is not judgmental, but that's not my mentality.'"
Casola had experienced a number of life-changing events before he walked in the door of the struggling Northminster Baptist Church at 300 W. Hightower Trail in Conyers.
He had founded Passion Community Church in Covington and had a thriving congregation.
But in May 2006, everything changed. His family was run over by a deranged driver in the parking lot of the Covington McDonald's.
The incident made the national news as Casola's two small sons, their mother, their aunt and their two-year-old cousin were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The boys and the two women eventually recovered, but their little cousin died from her injuries.
Today, Casola said his sons are doing fine and one would never know anything had ever happened to them. Isaac is 10, Jake is 11 and their older sister Haley is 15. Stephanie, who is now his former wife, has also recovered from her injuries.
Casola, who grew up in the Assembly of God Church and graduated from a Christian high school and from Tennessee Temple University said he has always been a "grace-oriented" person.
"It was something that was always growing," he said.
"I did have an epiphany with the whole McDonald's incident, but (it was) before I found out my wife was going to leave me. I was going to do a series on Galatians and I read what Paul was writing to the church. I read his other writings and realized we teach the opposite in the church."
He explained how Paul warns the church against false teachers with bad doctrines.
"He's talking to a group of people he shared Jesus with and then another group of people came in who told them they had to follow a bunch of rules. Then (Paul) said, 'I never taught you all these rules ... Wouldn't you rather live by grace and love?'"
Casola said the Scripture was an "eye opener" for him.
"He was talking to our church," he said. "He was talking to me... I don't know if people are ready for that message. People are looking for somebody to tell them what to do."
Casola eventually got out of the ministry, but then two years ago when Northminster Baptist needed someone to preach, they asked Casola to come speak.
"I started speaking at different places," he said. "This church had called me because they needed someone to speak. As long as they put up with my grace-filled heresy, I stayed."
He said Northminster had experienced some rough times, as well, including the death of a pastor.
"They were looking for a direction to go," he said.
"I was basically a guy who thought he'd never be in the ministry again who met up with a church that didn't know what direction to go. The church had been through so much that it was time to try something new or time to call it quits.
"I gave them a sort of vision or plan if they wanted to start a new church that was definitely different from what they were used to and from what I'd seen as church myself. I was willing to jump into it if they were."
The official launch of The Bridge was two weeks ago and the response has been great, Casola said. He said they let people know what the church was doing and that it was a new church designed to be a safe place where a person can be authentic, real and not have to hide who they really are or what they really feel.
"Most people feel like they have to wear a mask when they come to church," he said. "We're not making you conform to any mold, any political party or any set of ideals set out by people's tradition."
The Bridge meets on Sunday mornings at 10:30 in the former Northminster Baptist facility at 300 W. Hightower Trail in Conyers. For more information, call 770-922-5433 or visit www.safebridge.org.