Crossover Community Church ministers to hip-hop culture
(July 8, 2001)
Posters and plaques line the hallway. Teens peruse compact discs, T-shirts
and videos, checking the CDs out at listening stations before they buy.
A deejay spins vinyl records while young people stand talking in clusters,
offering a friendly hello to newcomers.
At 7:45 p.m., Tommy Kyllonen steps to the microphone and says an opening
prayer. The house lights dim, but gel lights illuminate the stage. Four
TV monitors flash the lyrics and 200 students of different ethnic groups
black, white, Hispanic and Asian unite in worship. Some
clap, others sway to the music. Familiar lyrics take on a new melody
and a new hip-hop beat as the deejay and worship leader collaborate
and the teens worship God.
This is the youth service at Crossover Community Church in Tampa, Fla.,
a church committed to ministering to youth in the hip-hop culture, predominant
among inner-city youths who enjoy rap music, graffiti and break dancing.
"My calling is to reach unchurched youth," says Kyllonen,
an A/G pastors son who grew up in inner-city Philadelphia and
graduated from Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland,
Fla. "Most kids that are into hip-hop music dont go to church."
Kyllonen came to Crossover as youth pastor in 1996 when only four teens
attended. He began holding Wednesday night Bible studies and then started
a basketball league in the community.
Today, more than 200 young adults, most of them previously unchurched,
attend the Thursday service. At any given service, close to 30 teens
are unbelievers, but a common love for the hip-hop music and culture
brings them together.
The service is advertised mostly by word of mouth. but the church hosts
outreach concerts four times a year that draw up to 500 people.
Kyllonen believes in helping young people develop their talents. More
than 70 students participate in weekly classes that teach singing, acting
and more. The classes help teens hone their gifts and a graffiti art
class encourages them to use their talents legally for murals, T-shirts
and Web sites.
"We use the classes as discipleship time," says Kyllonen.
"We always start them with prayer and Bible study."
The church is building its morning service from the youth service.
"We know that hip-hop music is what the students want, and we havent
compromised our message a bit," says Al Palmquist, senior pastor
of the church. "Were trying to ride the wave that God has
In June, the church sponsored Flavor Fest 2001, the second annual hip-hop/urban
youth workers conference. The 150 participants attended workshops that
addressed the hip-hop culture and spiritual aspects of youth ministry.
Thursday night services and outreach community concerts rounded out
"This is a cutting-edge, hip-hop, urban, inner-city, gospel outreach
ministry that ministers to the harvest field at the point of need,"
says Terry Raburn, superintendent of the Peninsular Florida District.
"They have not committed the error of trying to reproduce a suburban
church in an inner-city area."