By Kent E. Fillinger
The Crossing is a multisite megachurch. Its original campus is in Quincy, Illinois, a town of 40,000 people. Even though there are 85 churches in Quincy, 80 percent of the people there don’t attend any church, so Jerry Harris, senior pastor of The Crossing, decided to focus on being the church for people who don’t go to church.
The Crossing was a small church of 230 people in 1998 when it decided to spend $2.5 million to buy a community college to serve as the church’s new home. As part of the deal, The Crossing shared space with the college for a while, an experience that helped create a culture of adaptability and change in the church. And the church’s leaders learned to be agile and make quick, fearless decisions.
The focus on reaching the unchurched in Quincy helped The Crossing grow attendance from 230 to 1,700 within about seven years of buying the college property. Harris figured at some point the church would reach a ceiling and not grow anymore. He preached a sermon series titled “Dangerous Church” in 2005, and one day he did a Google search of that phrase and found LifeChurch.tv, a multisite church based in Oklahoma City.
Harris and his staff took a behind-the-scenes look at Life Church, including visits to three of the church’s four campuses, allowing them to experience the uniqueness of each one. At the time, Harris believed the multisite model wouldn’t work in the Midwest because he thought people would attend a church only if there were a live person preaching. Harris was surprised to learn he liked one of the Life Church video venue locations better than the main campus, so he and his staff decided where The Crossing’s first satellite campus would be: Macomb, Illinois, a town of 20,000, with a college population of another 13,000, located 60 miles north of Quincy.
The church spent $1.5 million on a campus and hired a staff of five. The Macomb campus hosted 874 people its first Sunday in October 2007, and then bottomed out at 350 before growing to today’s average of more than 1,100 people each weekend.
The Crossing now has seven locations spanning over 165 miles. The Kirksville campus is the farthest away—a 90-
minute drive on a two-lane road. Harris and his team realized how hard it is to maintain connectivity when you get that far away.
Harris and the church employ a strategy called “market cannibalization” used by companies like Starbucks when it opens two stores in close proximity in an effort to dominate the market. For example, The Crossing had 150 people driving from Hannibal, Missouri, to the Quincy campus, but instead of trying to lure more people from Hannibal to drive to Quincy, it opened a campus in Hannibal that now averages 750 people. Additionally, The Crossing recently opened another campus in Quincy called “the 929 campus” that uses a neighborhood concept and draws more than 300 people weekly.
Harris noted a big part of the church’s success is its focus on areas where there are no similar church alternatives with regard to worship style, technology, and ministry programming. Harris wrote a book last year called Micropolitan Church: Doing Mega-Ministry in America’s Small Towns*.
The church grew 19 percent last year to an average attendance of 4,989, making it one of the fastest-growing megachurches in our survey. Even more amazing, the church has consistently grown an average of 18 percent in each of the last six years.
The most recent campus is in Lima, Illinois, a town of less than 200 people where another church built a $1 million building but could get very few people to come. This church gave the debt-free building to The Crossing, and now 230 people attend each week. The baptistery that had been empty for five years is now being used for baptisms each Sunday.
In addition to adding new sites, a primary focus of the church is operating five thrift stores. The thrift stores generated $200,000 in profits last year and employed 50 people, many coming from the church’s Celebrate Recovery program. The profits are used to fund local benevolence projects to help the poor in the communities where they are located. The Crossing also operates a food pantry and feeds more than 1,000 people a month.
*Micropolitan, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, describes a small but regionally important population center of 10,000 to 50,000 residents. There are 576 micropolitan areas in the U.S., and 1 in 10 people lives in one of these locations.