“We do a full band,” King said. “We start with music almost every week. ... It’s kind of rock-concerty, but not that loud.”
Colored lights are part of the presentation, which is intended to sound familiar, to put the attendees at ease. “It just helps people to relax.”
King, 28, lives in Topsfield with his wife and two children. He attended Arizona State University. For him, the decision not to stress the rules is not the same as having no rules.
“We teach everything the Bible teaches,” he said. “We don’t believe we have to water down what God says.”
If you break the commandments, however, “We’re not going to kick you out. ... It’s the opposite of what I experienced growing up. Do this. Do that. ... I don’t believe that’s the God of the Bible.”
When a member was revealed to be sinning — committing adultery — King decided, “We’re going to care for him, help him work through this situation.” The organization acknowledges the harm in the sin: “We believe that’s clearly wrong, but the church doesn’t exist to throw people out.”
King stresses that the Next Level Church is not in competition with existing religions. He sees good things, for example, in both his Baptist and Catholic experiences. “Our focus is on people who are not attending any church.”
Gagnon is styled the “lead pastor,” although King concedes that he basically functions as a bishop. Moreover, he has a role to play at every church service at every location, speaking electronically in a simulcast.
“We’re hearing the same message,” King said. “We’re trying to unify our church.”
The church has been successful enough that it is building a new $1.5 million facility in New Hampshire. And it won’t be the typical church, King said, resembling instead “a Chipotle-type restaurant.” At its current rate of growth, the church expects to have 20 locations by 2020.
With “pastor Josh” handling the sermons, King expects that his role giving personal attention to his congregation is strengthened.
“We believe Jesus really makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “The Bible says you should live a life of love.”