Changing churches: Growth of a non-traditional movement

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Picking a church to call home can be as personal to some as choosing a spouse.

Size, denomination and music style are just a few factors people consider.

WSLS 10 is taking a closer look at the non-traditional movement that's undeniably making waves in Southwest Virginia.

The band, the graphics, the soundboard and video camera can make walking into Kainos feel much like a concert experience at first.

More than a 100 people pack into "The Crossing" at First Baptist Church in downtown Roanoke on Tuesday nights. It's not the traditional church-going day or experience.

"The trend lines are not good as far as the church is concerned," explained Dr. Rod Dempsey, Professor of Educational Ministries at Liberty University.

Even though Kainos has grown from 30 people to more than a 150 at times in less than a year, Dempsey said 85 percent of churches in North America have either plateaued or declined in membership.

"The culture has shifted away," he said. "The fastest growing segments of people who self-identify on a survey of religious background are people who will identify as people who are non-religious, no church background and so that's the fastest growing."

A statistic like that has only encouraged local church leaders to get creative in reaching people.

Earlier this year, Dr. Bryan Smith, the lead pastor at First Baptist Church, came up with the idea for Kainos to reach the fast growing age group in Roanoke, young adults.

"The church has always been a community committed to worship, but what we're seeing right now in this time is being done in ways we hadn't seen before," said Smith.

"Definitely don't think it's a traditional service," explained Brent Cummings, the minister to young adults at First Baptist Church and Kainos speaker. "We do a lot of things on Tuesday nights that not normally would be done on Sunday morning anywhere, I think."

At Kainos you'll find a piano, but no organ, hymnals or pulpit, just a 20-something pastor who's delivering the same 2,000-year-old message.

"We really want to see God start a movement in our generation and so that's really what Kainos is all about, something new and something fresh," said Cummings.

Across town at the Berglund Center, Dustin Stradley, Pastor of Elevation Roanoke Downtown, showed WSLS 10 its recently added location.

"We have about 200 volunteers that come every single week and transform this entire place into a church," Stradley said. "We put up 10-foot drapes around this entire room, because we always want to create an atmosphere of expectation and excellence."

Berglund Hall is the second, non-traditional location Elevation has transformed.

Hidden Valley High School was the first in 2014, and yes, 200 more volunteers convert the school into a church every Sunday as well.

"I think people are looking to be a part of something bigger than themselves and that's what we strive to do. We strive to be a place that people can come as they are. We can meet them where they are and then we can point them to Jesus," explained Stradley.

These are two examples of changes in church in Roanoke, but according to Dempsey, this movement of change actually started in the 90s at a church in Chicago.

"It was basically this idea that we're losing our youth and so they wanted to reformat the Sunday morning service, that it wasn't just going to be for believers, but they were also going to target unbelievers to come to church as well." Dempsey said. "They started something, kind of like, invest and invite. Invest in your friends, invite them to church and when they come to church they're going to enjoy it because it's going to be topical and the messages are going to be geared for them."

Now, with technology, it's easier than ever for the topical message to spread.

Both Kainos and Elevation have launched social media campaigns to reach people in the Roanoke Valley.

Stradley knows firsthand it's a personal connection that has led to growth at Elevation and lives changed.

In 2009, He showed up at a location in Charlotte, North Carolina, one week after he was arrested and put in jail.

"A friend brought me to Elevation Church the following week on August 9, 2009. The worship experience was inspiring, the sermon, the worship, every bit of it, but what spoke to me more than anything else were the people in that place did not care where I had been just a week before. They only care that I was there that day and they met me with arms wide open and loved me through and that's what kept me coming," Stradley said.

Now as a pastor, he knows connecting to people face to face is vital.

That's what he credits for growing in just two years from 200 to upwards of 1,800.

"In the near future I can see us expanding beyond Roanoke to Richmond, we've talk about Virginia Beach and really just taking over the entire state of Virginia the best that we can to reach people."

Leaders from both churches say they've been contacted by ministry leaders locally and across the nation asking for tips and advice on what's working to reach people.

While it's clear to see the church has embraced change in delivery, leaders are quick to point out the message remains the same.

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