Straightforward spirituality

Worship: A Columbia congregation hears God's word in plain language, the pastor says.

October 08, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cornerstone Community Church in Columbia describes itself as a "what you see is what you get" kind of church.

That's because the people who attend its services aren't bombarded with "religiosity," said the Rev. Bruce Hopler, senior pastor of the church.

Instead, they are given God's word in a plain way that most people can understand, he said.

"We burst through what has become `Christian culture' by using everyday language to deliver messages that people can relate to, and use music and art forms that are similar to today's culture," Hopler explained.

He added, "We want people to have a real relationship with Christ."

Ten years ago, Hopler and his wife, Terri, sought to begin a church that would be "truly part of the community, simple yet effective and that really cares about people and seeks creative ways of encouraging their relationship with Christ, regardless of their background," a church brochure states.

In March 1994, Cornerstone held its first worship service at Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge with about 10 people.

Four years later, Hopler said, the Lord gave him a vision to find a permanent meeting place. Although the church didn't have the money, it stepped out on faith, and in December 1999, moved to its current warehouse location on Dobbin Road.

Last year, the Rev. Ron Willoughby was hired as "team pastor," and he and Hopler are referred to as co-pastors of Cornerstone, Hopler said.

"We're modeling that people need each other," he said, explaining that the two share pastoral duties.

The church offers two Sunday services, at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., with an average attendance of 260 people for both services.

In addition to preaching, the church leaders use testimonials, music, drama, dance and multimedia art forms to convey spiritual messages.

To illustrate the church's theme of being "real," Hopler said it is not unusual for him to sit on a wooden stool in plain clothes during a Sunday service and describe how he "messed up this week" and what "spiritual lessons" he learned.

Those who attend Cornerstone have plenty of opportunities for ministry, including several for children, small groups to learn more about God with other believers and community outreach.

Rebecca Copeland who leads the small-group ministry, called LifeGroups at Cornerstone, said she has found Cornerstone "refreshing" because the leadership "doesn't fear change. I grew up in a traditional church where I had to struggle against the status quo," she said. "Here, the people were very open ... and always on the lookout to do things better."

Copeland added that for people who don't have a relationship with Christ or aren't sure whether they want to become Christian, Cornerstone is a "safe place to find out, where people can really feel at home."

Mark Pruim said his family decided to join Cornerstone four years ago.

"One of the main reasons we stayed was the relationships with the people; it's like a family, a community," he said. "Our kids also wanted to go back."

Will Hinz and his family became members because, he said, Cornerstone made them feel comfortable. "They don't put labels on people," he said.

Hopler said the church's intention is to reach those who don't know God, adding that the casual atmosphere, including a coffee bar and "Pizza with the Pastors," allows people to get to know the congregation in a friendly atmosphere.

"We have a very simple church structure here, and our job is to serve the people," he said.

Hopler added that the church also helps its members build what he calls their "spiritual portfolio," consisting of six essential principles: prayer, corporate worship, community, the Word of God, stewardship and multiplication, or helping others become disciples of Christ.

As for making a difference beyond its church, Hopler said Cornerstone is committed to working with local churches with similar goals and supporting world missions.

"[Pastor] Ron is at the world evangelism conference in Taiwan right now, where people from all the over the world are talking about how to connect with one another. And he's going to help us in that area," Hopler said.

Information: 410-997-6001, or

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