Mega-Churches... the future of faith?
CINCINNATI (Jeff Hirsh) -- Mergers, downsizing, even shutdowns; it sounds like industry but it's also religion. Churches and synagogues nationwide and locally are closing as attendance shrinks. But there is one type of church where attendance is booming: the mega-church. It is not a mall, it is not a Starbucks, it is not a rock concert; it is a church. It is a church without crosses, without stained glass windows, without sculptures, and without pictures of Jesus on purpose. Crossroads says it is a church for people who don't like church which may be why Crossroads is growing. There are five locations and on a busy weekend more than 20,000 worshipers go there. A mega-church from humble beginnings; in 1996, a few hundred people met in a Hyde Park school incorporating music, skits, and film clips into the service. Founding and Senior Pastor Brian Tome said, "All of us have that thing inside of us where we want to feel my life matters, and Crossroads is a way for people to feel part of something bigger than themselves." Crossroads has gotten bigger too. In 2001 it rehabbed an empty HQ Big Box hardware store into what is now the Oakley Campus, headquarters to four other branches in Mason, Florence, West Side and Clifton. Clifton meets in Bogarts Bar and Concert Hall.The term "Mega Church" simply means a house of worship with 2000 or more members or congregants. So in theory people could have a Mega-Synagogue or a Mega-Mosque. And certainly a lot of Catholic cathedrals have qualified as Mega Churches for years. But in the U.S. the term Mega Church has come to mean more than just size alone. American Mega Churches tend to be Protestant, or in the case of Crossroads, Protestant Interdenominational. The target audience: people who have given up on church but not on spirituality."People are looking for a message that relates to their daily lives," said Reverend Abby King-Kaiser. Reverend King-Kaiser is in charge of ministerial programs for Non-Catholic students at Xavier University. She said Mega-Churches could be the different that brings people back, "This time and place any more in American religion the loyalty to 'I was born blank' and 'I will always be blank' just doesn't exist any more." Josh McDavid was brought up in a tiny Pentecostal church while wife Kristen was raised Catholic. The McDavid's like Crossroads' social service activities and the extensive child care and religious education which son Benjamin can attend through eighth grade. Crossroads has critics who say the hour-long service is too short and the rock bands, video screens, and lack of prayer books make it show biz, not religion.Tome said, "Who ever says having fun is bad? This is really weird. If God is going to prove it, or God is going to like it then it must be hard, it must be boring, it must drone on to be predictable? Where in the world do we get this idea?" Certainly not at Crossroads. There's plenty of parking, free coffee , and cup holders in the auditorium. Crossroads will get even bigger when the worshipers at Bogarts move to a fixed-up old Saint George Church in 2016. The Hartford Institute of Religion said there are eight Mega-Churches in greater Cincinnati.