Sustaining a GROWING congregation

Four years ago,
a group of 35 people founded The Crossing in a Columbia home. Now more than 1,200 people attend its Sunday services, and
construction is about to begin on the
congregation’s first church building.
Sunday, February 27, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:27 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

One evening a few months ago, tears welled in Darcie Putnam’s eyes as she watched fellow members of The Crossing Church drop envelopes into a basket.

She and her husband were among about 200 families enjoying a night of prayer and celebration in a conference room at Stoney Creek Inn. The lights were low and soft music played as, one by one, members of the evangelical Presbyterian congregation walked slowly to the front of the room and made their contributions toward The Crossing’s first church building.

Formed four years ago, The Crossing has gone from the basement of a Columbia house to a $6.5 million dream home at Grindstone Parkway and Rock Quarry Road. While their children ate pizza and played, the adults had dinner and prayed. Then they made their offerings toward the project’s $1.5 million first phase.

“It was a really moving few minutes for me as I watched these throngs of people going before the church,” Putnam said. “Husbands and wives were holding hands, some bringing their children with them, and going to the front of the room to turn in their cards. It is neat to be a part of a group of people that believes so much in what we are doing.”

Four years ago, raising millions of dollars for a church was inconceivable to The Crossing’s congregation, which totaled fewer than three dozen people. When it reached 90 people, the church moved its services to a room in Memorial Union at MU. Not long after that, the church had to move again, to the auditorium at Rock Bridge High School. The Rev. Keith Simon said that, at the first Sunday service at Rock Bridge auditorium, he stood up, said a few words and quickly sat back down.

“All I could see was 75 people and 425 empty seats,” said Simon, who is one of four pastors at the church. “I couldn’t even get the welcome out.”

Today, The Crossing has 400 members, but about 1,200 people attend the church on Sundays. Because the Rock Bridge High School auditorium only seats only 500, three services are held to accommodate the demand. Church leaders were hoping to delay construction of a new church as long as possible, the Rev. Ryan Wampler said.

“We wanted to communicate the idea that the people are the church, the body of believers — not the building,” he said.

But last spring, the Columbia School Board notified The Crossing that it has until the end of June 2006 to find a new home. The church owns 17 acres of land on the south side of Grindstone Parkway, where it will begin construction. Plans for the 46,000-square-foot church include a 1,000-seat auditorium, educational space for classes and ministries, a café and a playground.

Church member Cammie Wheeler is excited about opportunities the new facility will present.

“Having our own building will open doors of opportunity that we have yet to comprehend,” Wheeler said. “It will allow us to have a greater impact on the community around us.”

One explanation for The Crossing’s rapid growth is the nature of evangelical Presbyterianism, which focuses on a few core beliefs but leaves many issues up to the individual. Although the church says that the Bible is the true and uncontested word of God, freedom and flexibility on “non-essential” matters help to prevent strife and division within the denomination, according to church doctrine. When it

comes to matters such as worship style or whether women should be ordained, evangelical Presbyterianism encourages members and churches to make their own decisions.

“We don’t like to put it out there,” Wampler said. “We just want them to come and see us for what we are. We’re Presbyterian, with a small P.”

Wheeler, a Columbia resident, started attending The Crossing when it was still held in Memorial Union. She said the church has a

Please see CROSSING, page 9C

on-denominational feel, and she said the church’s growth is partly because of the flexible style of the service, which combines traditional and contemporary modes of worship. The weekly services vary, depending on the focus of the sermon, and church teachings and worship complement one another.

“I think the fact that the service isn’t stuck in a particular tradition mode makes it feel less denominationally confined,” Wheeler said. “But as far as doctrine goes, the pastors are clearly in line with the beliefs of the evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

People from many different religious backgrounds flock to The Crossing. Gretchen and Mike Chudy were searching for a church that would make them both feel at home despite their different religious upbringings. Gretchen was raised as a Baptist; Mike was brought up Catholic. The Chudys were trying new churches on a weekly basis. But after a single visit to The Crossing, they decided to continue attending and eventually became members.

“It was a great marriage of the dim, reflective part of Catholic services, but with the really connective, longer sermons characteristic of Protestant churches,” Gretchen Chudy said. “I feel better that it has denominational ties, though, because it adds accountability to the church.”

One week after the commitment card ceremony at the Stoney Creek Inn, church members met to find out if they had raised enough money to begin construction. The hope was for 170 pledges to reach the $1.5 million needed to begin construction. The fund-raising went better than expected, however, and church leaders collected pledges from 203 families, totaling $1.85 million in current and future commitments to the project. The groundbreaking is expected to take place in March.

Putnam said she knew everything would be OK when she heard the Rev. Shay Roush’s greeting that Sunday.

“He said ‘You’re all going to be really excited to know what’s going on with The Crossing Point Project,’” Putnam said, “‘but I’m not going to tell you now because then you won’t listen to me for the rest of the service.’”

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