The Rev. Geoffrey Dudley credits progressive thinking and new technology for the rapid growth of New Life in Christ Interdenominational Church in O'Fallon.
It's gone from a founding group of 28 people 10 years ago to a congregation with an average attendance of 1,300 at worship services and more than 2,000 on the membership roll.
"It's a dream-come-true," said John McCants, 75, of Mascoutah, a founding trustee who helped recruit Dudley as pastor.
The predominantly black church places a heavy emphasis on attracting young families and serving youths. Its website is packed with activities, such as Man Cave Mondays, date nights for couples, singles meet-ups and children's Bible studies.
Dudley, 54, of O'Fallon, uses emails, texts, robocalls, Facebook, Twitter and blogs to communicate with members. His sermons, which often include movie clips, are streamed live on the Internet to desktops, smartphones and tablets.
"Every Wednesday morning (from 7:15 to 7:30), the entire church can call in from wherever they are, and I'm praying for them live as they're going to work," Dudley said.
It's all part of the New Life philosophy that God relates to people in the context of their time, place and life situations instead of operating as a static force.
Dudley is a retired lieutenant colonel who was stationed at Scott Air Force Base as a Church of God in Christ chaplain. He grew up in a family of 13 in North Carolina and followed in his father's footsteps as a minister with the United Holy Church of America.
Dudley didn't plan to stay in the metro-east after military retirement, but those attending his SAFB chapel services persuaded him and his wife, Glenda.
"We wanted to start a church that was part of the community and to make the community part of the church," McCants said. "We wanted a church that was open to all denominations."
Members met in the basement of a home, an office and a hotel before building a 30,000-square-foot complex on Scott Troy Road.
Today, their emphasis on youths is illustrated by programs that provide scholarships to college students and mentoring at East St. Louis Senior High School.
The church is building a 10,000-square-foot youth facility that will house a movie theater, worship center, gaming area and computer cafe.
"If we can get children off the street and get them involved in Christian activities and better their lives ... that is our goal," McCants said.
Dudley and his wife have two grown children. Daughter Mahogany serves as New Life children's pastor, and son Geoffrey II is a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Church goals include reaching a membership of 5,000 people and increasing diversity. Today, about 4 percent of the congregation is non-black.
Members plan to accomplish these goals by continuing with community outreach and action.
"There's an aspect to everyone (that they) want to make a difference," Dudley said. "New Life in Christ strives to make a difference in people's lives and empowers them to make a difference in people's lives."
The church has been celebrating its 10th anniversary since January, following the theme of "My Story, His Journey." It will hold a gala tonight at the Four Points by Sheraton in Fairview Heights and special services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday.
The church is at 689 Scott Troy Road in O'Fallon. For more information, call 618-632-6542 or visit nlicic.org.