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Mega-progress at a megachurch

Going from a rented room in a hotel to a 2,300-member congregation 15 years later, Kingdom Life Christian Church's story is a study in how a megachurch succeeds.

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These pastors are hungry both for spiritual teaching and for training in organizational skills, Hashem says, and KLCC may use its TV capability to produce teaching DVDs.

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At tonight's special service, pastors from Namibia and South Africa are also being ordained. In his sermon, Ramirez speaks of honesty in the pulpit, and of being alert to self-deception, to the pitfalls of sex and money, but most of all, pride. "I encourage you to be a restorer, an individual who knows how to put arms around people," he tells them.

At KLCC, as in most megachurches, the vision and leadership of the senior pastor has been key to its growth. So, too, is the ability to attract talented people and inspire hundreds of volunteers.

However dynamic the music and preaching, however welcoming the congregation, what seems most compelling to churchgoers here is a deep connection to a spiritual mission that is helping them grow - and helping them serve others through Kingdom Life's many ministries.

Two lives transformed - and then joined

Rich and Tina Stoll were together during tumultuous years of daily drinking and drugging, but they were just married last fall - a sign, they say, of transformed lives.

The couple has been coming to Kingdom Life Christian Church for 3-1/2 years, after a friend who had once been part of the partying kept on pestering.

"He'd gone through a big change at this church and kept coming to the bar, witnessing, but we didn't want anything to do with him," Rich recalls after a Sunday service.

During a day of misery 18 months later, however, Rich took him up on it. "I came, and thought the bishop was speaking directly to me," he says. At the third visit, he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

"At the time, I was strung out on heroin and was doing cocaine. I was stealing money from the job to pay for my habit," he says.

When he prayed for God to take the addiction away, Rich shortly found himself arrested and thrown in jail for three months. In his prayers, he says, God let him know it was so he could get clean, and he did.

"That was the end of it - I have no urge whatsoever," he says, still amazed. "It's not that I'm holier than anyone else, but God has completely transformed the way I think."

Tina followed him and got free, too. "This church teaches you how to apply the word of God in a practical way you can use every minute," she explains. "The bishop breaks it down; it could be forgiveness of your enemies or the ones you love."

What the couple say they appreciate is that the pastor also shows them where to find the message in the Bible and teaches how to pray. "Prayer is very important - I pray morning, night, and throughout the day," Tina says.

Rich is on the security staff at the church, and Tina regularly visits local nursing homes. They didn't rush into marriage, but went through a year of classes at the church "to make sure it was God's will for us," she says. "It seems there wasn't any purpose to our life except getting high. Now we see God does have a purpose for us."

Megachurch statistics

Protestant churches in the US that have a weekly attendance of more than 2,000 - nearly double the number of five years ago.

Megachurches that are nondenominational.

US churches that are megachurches.

Megachurches that are in the South; 25% are in the West, 20% are in the North Central area; 6% are in the Northeast.