Churching the unchurched HOWARD COUNTY

February 12, 1993

Pop tunes are performed during services -- with one of the pastors on drums. Live playlets are presented on topics like marital conflict, work stress and substance abuse. Video documentaries on people who have weathered "major storms in life" are shown on a large screen.

Welcome to Valley Brook Community Church in Columbia, a non-denominational Christian congregation founded in 1987 and consisting mainly of Yuppies alienated from mainstream religion.

"'Unchurched' is a word for people who don't believe in God. I think they believe in God. They just don't believe in church," says Rob Lamp, one of five Valley Brook pastors (and the drummer).

Thirty-six-years old, married with children, raised in a mainstream Protestant denomination, Mr. Lamp is typical of the 500 church members. Estranged from their original faiths, he explains, "they hit a brick wall in life at around 30 and started looking for some meaning."

Valley Brook attracts these meaning-seekers with methods it judges "relevant" to the TV generation -- pop music, video, drama. "We help them scratch where they itch," is how Mr. Lamp puts it.

The past several years have seen such concepts infiltrating even mainstream congregations, where child care, sports leagues, weekend retreats and other programs have been introduced to lure young families. Increasingly, religious groups have realized young adults represent the future of congregations -- and primary sources of financial support.

In its theological outlook and its targeting of religiously lapsed Baby Boomers, Valley Brook models itself on Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, the second largest Protestant congregation in the United States. That "superchurch," founded 17 years ago, currently boasts 13,000 members, a $15 million, 4,650-seat auditorium with information booths in its lobby and an annual budget of nearly $80,000 for traffic control.

The Valley Brook congregation, which worships Sundays at area schools, likely won't attain Willow Creek-type numbers. But it's expected to grow, starting with ground-breaking next summer for a $1.8 million, 600-seat facility on Hall Shop Road.

"We're not the church for everybody," Mr. Lamp says. "But we have a lot of people who tell us we're reaching them in a way no other church has."

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