A northwest Oklahoma City ministry is one of the fastest-growing churches in America, according to a nationwide survey released recently.
The exponential growth of People's Church, 800 E Britton Road, a church affiliated with the Assemblies of God, has propelled it to No. 4 on Outreach magazine's 2010 list of the fastest-growing churches in the country.
The church is headed by the Rev. Herbert Cooper, who started the church in his home in 2002 and spent several years holding the church's Sunday services at a local movie theater.
People's Church is included in Outreach magazine's annual special report on the 100 largest and fastest-growing churches in the United States. Outreach, in partnership with LifeWay Research for the fourth consecutive year, released the report Sept. 15.
Researchers, led by LifeWay Research President and Outreach columnist Ed Stetzer, contacted more than 8,000 churches to gather the self-reported data used to compile the lists. The listings are based on weekend attendance averages in February and March.
The 2010 "largest church" list includes churches with an attendance of more than 5,500, while the "fastest-growing" list includes churches with attendance greater than 1,000 — a numerical gain of 250 or more and a percentage gain of at least 3 percent. Rankings for "fastest-growing churches" are determined by factoring percentage growth and numerical gain.
Cooper, 35, said there are likely several reasons the ministry is drawing more people each week.
The church reported an increase of 1,085 people from February/March 2009 to February/March 2010. Church leaders said about 4,000 people attend the church's four weekend services.
"When you are living in it, you don't really sit back and say 'Wow!'" Cooper said. "I'm just excited to see how the Lord has blessed us."
Outreach spurs growth
Cooper said he always envisioned People's Church growing but didn't realize it would grow so quickly.
He said he grew up in Wewoka and attended college in Missouri. He said he and his wife, Tiffany, moved from Missouri to Oklahoma City in 2002 to start the church with longtime friend Brian Rush, the church's creative arts director. The church moved from the Coopers' home to Quail Springs AMC movie theater for several years before the congregation bought land at its present location on Britton Road between the Broadway Extension and Kelley Avenue.
Recently, Cooper and Rush talked about the growth spurt that took place almost immediately after the church opened its building on Britton Road. They said the building opened in spring 2006 with an auditorium seating about 600, but about 1,800 people began showing up for services each weekend.
The growth spurt resulted in an expansion project that added 44,000 square feet to the existing 17,500-square-foot building. The expanded 62,000-square-foot complex was completed in summer 2009. A year later, the church is on the list of the nation's fastest-growing churches.
"The new building was a catalyst for us," Cooper said.
Also, he said more people have learned about the church through its outreach activities. He said many of the people who were curious about the church came to visit and decided to join.
Cooper said the church provided socks and underwear for students at SeeWorth Academy and conducted a major renovation project at the school. The church also conducted a makeover on the auditorium at Millwood High School that included a new stage, carpet, tile and paint. Most recently, the church partnered with James L. Dennis Elementary School to replace about $5,000 in school supplies when the Putnam City School District site received flood damage, he said.
Cooper said he has talked to many people who now attend the church, and they told him that they first came to the ministry after experiencing firsthand some of the church's outreach activities.
"I think our heart for evangelism and outreach is key," he said.
Cooper said the church's "out of the box" worship experiences seem to appeal to people, and this also could be a reason for the ministry's growth spurt.
He said the church's nontraditional approach appeals to many people, particularly youths and young adults in their 20s who are "coming in droves."
"I don't want that to come across as if we think that traditional churches are wrong. I grew up in a traditional church, and I love traditional churches. But we are doing something different that is appealing to people."
He said one way People's Church is nontraditional is the dramatic musical performances church leaders offer in conjunction with the Sunday messages.
Cooper said church leaders are very intentional about this and have weekly creative meetings to plan these "performances with a purpose" about three to four weeks ahead of time.
"We ask ourselves, 'How do we take what God wants us to share in the message and illustrate it?'" he said.
On a recent Sunday, church members performed a dramatic routine similar to the musical theater style of "Stomp," beating garbage cans, walking on stiltlike items and dancing as a raging fire was displayed on a big screen in the background. The routine was tied to a message about the end of the world.
Rush said another recent dramatic performance involved several women attired in wedding dresses singing and dancing to a People's Church version of Beyonce's pop culture hit "Single Ladies." Rush said the performance was tied to a series about Christian singles. Cooper said another time, dancers performed to Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" before a message about the importance of prayer. A spoof of old-school rapper M.C. Hammer's "Pray" also was done for that series.
"It creates excitement, and I think they (performances) are a strength."
Meanwhile, the church formerly called itself a multicultural church, and Cooper said that was by design. He said church leaders wanted to call attention to the church's diversity. Cooper said the church doesn't highlight that aspect of the church as much because the diversity in the staff, worship team and congregation speaks for itself.
"Brian and I started the church together — a white guy and a black guy — and we said we were 'a multicultural church designed with you in mind,'" he said. "Nowadays, we just live it out. We don't make a big deal about it."
Cooper said church leaders hope to open a satellite church in the south Oklahoma City metro area in the coming year. He said the church has a significant number of members from the region that includes Spencer, Moore and particularly Midwest City and Del City. Cooper said attendees at the south complex will see his Sunday messages via satellite.
And in the meantime, Cooper said church leaders plan to continue their mission to reach the unchurched. "It is humbling to watch what God is doing."