Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Crossroads turns corner with HQ buy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Beguiled by the aroma of designer coffee, I told the young man at the information table that I had come there to worship. I held my breath, half expecting a heavenly chorus of “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

        The truth is I had come to Crossroads Community Church, located for now in Clark Montessori School in Hyde Park, to discover what magic has allowed it to grow so quickly. And with such apparent prosperity. This church, which opened in March 1996, just purchased the old HQ building in Oakley for $4.6 million.

        But there was no heavenly chorus. No pipe organ either. Just the backbeat from the house band — a keyboardist, guitarist, bass player and drummer — described by one of the church pastors as “very close to Hootie and the Blowfish, somewhat unplugged.”

        So, I plundered the handouts about ski trips and investment seminars on the table in the lobby, then answered the musical call to worship.

        The young person at the doorway — and I did not see any old persons — handed me a church bulletin, labeled “something to read if the service or Brian gets boring.” Brian is the pastor, Brian Tome, 34, whose vestments were khaki pants and a plaid shirt.

        Inside the church bulletin was the customary card for newcomers, requesting name, address, phone number et cetera. Well, almost customary. A notice at the top reads:

        “Don't worry! No one will show up at your door, sell your name to some insurance company in Duluth or try to meet your cleaning product needs. It's just a way for us to know who we are serving and how we are doing.”

        But I did not read this until much later. Because neither Brian nor the service got boring.

        Inside the packed auditorium, the worshipers stand, some singing along with the band. No hymnals. The words are on a 9-by-12-foot screen to the left of the stage. At the rear of the auditorium is an impressive sound board. Today's message is about prayer, and the screen displays a giant cell phone with God as the digital readout.

        The lighting, the music, the video clips are flawlessly delivered. As is the message.

Seeking the "un-churched'
        Before the pastor begins his sermon in chatty “like, you know” Gen-X speak, a staffer welcomes the crowd and announces the Thursday worship service will be in Crossroads' new building, “just us, the band and a bunch of folding chairs.”

        Oh, and 86,000 square feet of concrete and steel. Crossroads, which began as a meeting of a dozen people for Bible study and prayer, bought the former HQ building on Madison Road in December, and plans are for the church to move there before the end of 2000. Thursday is just a preview.

        “We're excited about the new building,” the Rev. Mr. Tome says. “But this church is not about bricks and mortar. The new building is just a symbol of what is taking place.”

        He says his church is “designed for people who were not going to church.” He guesses that between 70 percent and 80 percent of his 1,400-member flock claims the interdenominational Crossroads as its first “church home.”

        The Rev. Mr. Tome, a graduate of Reform Presbyterian Theological Seminary, came here from North Park Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. He interviewed with the founders of Crossroads, young professionals, many of whom were Procter & Gamble executives.

        So, I pressed gently: What is your magic formula? The Proctoid marketing genius? The coffee? Deep pockets? The location? Why have you grown so dramatically?

        And he pressed back. “We just give God a forum to do what he wants to do.”

        God. Same old magic. Just a new way of meeting Him.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com