Thursday, August 29, 2002

Growing church reels in people

Theater being transformed to serve 1,200

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

        MILFORD — Rex Brown remembers going to movies at the I-275 cinema in Milford when he was in middle school.

        Beginning next spring, the senior pastor of Eastside Christian Church will be ministering there.

        The church has purchased the old theater and its 55 acres for $3.2 million. Major construction, estimated to cost another $2.8 million, is set to begin in October, and the congregation hopes to have its Easter services there.

[photo] Pastors Will Mullin (left) and Rex Brown of Eastside Christian Church
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        The congregation has outgrown its 225-seat sanctuary and church at 5857 Highview Drive in Milford. The last three years has seen an increase in weekend attendance from 200 people to 1,200, said Executive Pastor Will Mullins.

        The new building will seat 900 in the auditorium, which will be created by knocking down two of the theater walls and leveling the floor. An addition of similar size will provide room for the stage, said Roger Short of Roger Short and Associates of Cincinnati, the architect.

        “We've done probably 250 churches, but I've never done ... a movie theater transition before.”

        Originally, the church planned to demolish the existing theater, but Mr. Short was able to design a way to use it and save the congregation money, Pastor Brown said.

        “The look is not going to be churchy looking,” Mr. Short said. “I think many people are intimidated by that. I think folks will be less uncomfortable coming here.”

        In addition to transforming the auditorium, much of the existing space will take on new purposes, such as classroom, office and storage. The church plans to include a latte bar and a patio for socializing before and after services, Pastor Mullins said.

        These new features combined with the less “churchy look” only emphasize a major shift the philosophy of the church has seen in the last three years, since Pastor Brown arrived.

        “The church had been more traditional and conservative,” Pastor Mullins said. “We got away from the old hellfire and brimstone where you were leaving church feeling worse than when you came in.”

        The nondenominational Christian Church, which was founded in 1838 as the Christian Chapel, now has a contemporary Christian band playing at five weekend services, and Pastor Brown preaches more contemporary messages.

        “We've made a conscientious effort to be more relevant and meaningful to modern life,” Pastor Brown said.

        The church now has a large young adult attendance. Many of those people bring young families, and the need for larger classroom facilities.

        Vince Delorme, who heads the youth ministry, had only 90 children in the nursery-through-6th-grade program when he started two years ago. That's grown to 320 kids and a severe space problem.

        “If all the kids decided to come at once, I don't know what we'd do. We'd definitely feel it,” Mr. Delorme said.

        Pastors Brown and Mullins attended Cincinnati Bible College and both have served a California church.



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