Reaching out to people with technology, trends

POLAND -- High Pointe Assembly of God has built a church designed for a modern congregation.
There's the caf & eacute; just inside the front door that serves up cappuccino along with Bible lessons. Youth activities include a wide-screen television for PlayStation games, as well as the traditional foosball and recreation equipment. Members have 24-hour-a-day access to a prayer room designed for privacy and meditation. The sanctuary is wired for technology that allows film clips, computer displays and a television feed in the case of a major news event, such as Sept. 11, that may need to be addressed in prayer. Plans are under way for classes in Web page design and video editing. One room is designed for connecting to the Internet.
"It was built with the community in mind," said the Rev. Tony LaGamba, who has been the church pastor since Palm Sunday 1992. The 150-member congregation moved into the 12,000-square-foot facility on Struthers Road seven weeks ago, and a grand-opening celebration is set for 2 p.m. Aug. 29.
Foreseen expansion
The building also was designed with the future in mind. The sanctuary seats nearly 300 for services and converts into a recreation room and a banquet hall. It has a wall in the rear that will allow for easy expansion when the congregation grows, the Rev. Mr. LaGamba said. Even the sound system was designed for a larger area than the present room, he said.
The church owns 18 acres of what was once part of a large tract belonging to Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and, most recently, was home to High Pointe baseball fields.
The building and grounds are just one part of the church's plans, Mr. LaGamba explains. In addition to its services and activities for all ages, it also targets certain groups.
Social groups
Mr. LaGamba cites statistics that show 60 percent of people in their 20s and early 30s are not attending church at all.
"That's one of the groups we really want to target," he said. In addition to the caf & eacute; and technology, the church offers Sunday school for married couples and parenting classes. It's a family-oriented church, he noted.
"Any church is as strong as its marriages and its parents," he said. There is also programming for single people.
Discipleship groups address a variety of issues such as divorce and addiction.
Part of the church focus is building meaningful relationships among members, something that happens in smaller groups and with fellowship, Mr. LaGamba said.
The Solomon's Porch Caf & eacute; is a popular meeting spot for groups, including the men's Bible study that meets at 6:30 a.m. Monday and the youth group that meets Wednesday nights. The caf & eacute; also is the site of fellowship between Sunday school and worship services Sunday mornings. Older high school students attend mentoring programs designed to teach them practical skills and help them address a variety of issues.
Adults also meet Wednesday nights for the Berean Bible Institute class that gives college credit to its students. They can use the course for enrichment, or they could use the credit if they choose to attend Bible college, Mr. LaGamba said.
Then and now
High Pointe Assembly, previously known as Harvest Life Center, began in the summer of 1987 in a pavilion at Yellow Creek Park in Struthers. Once the weather became cooler, the church rented the Struthers High School auditorium for services, and in 1988 it bought the former Isle of Capri Restaurant on Youngstown-Poland Road in Struthers and hired Senior Pastor Bob Brookhart as its first leader. The Rev. Vince Bellanca served as the second pastor from 1989 to 1991.
Mr. LaGamba said the church sold the building in 1999 and met at the Struthers Middle School, Heart Reach Ministries and, most recently, the Youngstown Christian School.
They began building the new church 13 months ago. Construction costs were about $500,000, Mr. LaGamba said. The congregation saved money when the national Assembly of God organization sent three retired couples skilled in construction to help the hired builders. The couples lived in recreational vehicles at the church site for five months. The congregation also saved money by doing some of the work themselves.
The site, with an elevation of 1,400 feet above the Mahoning River bed, is one of the highest points in Mahoning County, Mr. LaGamba said.
Mr. LaGamba, a Struthers native, is assisted by an associate pastor, the Rev. Joy Chickonoski, and youth pastor, the Rev. Chris Askew.

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