touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community
By Isaac Olivarez
sole purpose is to give streetwise teens and 20-somethings
a soul purpose. It’s been this way since Tommy Kyllonen
came to Tampa, Fla., in 1996 and started the “hip-hop”
youth ministry at the church with four teens.
The group grew
to nearly 200 during the next six years. When Kyllonen became
senior pastor two years ago, the church as a whole transitioned
its focus to reaching out to those in Tampa’s hip-hop
services at Crossover are like no other. A disc jockey runs
turntables, with hip-hop as well as rhythm and blues tunes
mingled with praise and worship songs booming from overhead
speakers. Remarkable testimonies from former drug dealers
and strippers help define the services.
it clear that we were supposed to reach out to what the
majority of the neighborhood was, and that’s hip-hop,”
says Kyllonen, 30. But that doesn’t mean the gospel
is watered down for the congregation, which is 50 percent
Hispanic, 25 percent black and 25 percent white.
it like it is, but we always do it in love,” says
Kyllonen, noting the church has nearly 20 first-time visitors
a free CD that includes music from various hip-hop and R&B
artists who attend the church, as well as an introduction
from Kyllonen, who has also recorded five hip-hop albums
under the name Urban D.
For the community,
Crossover holds quarterly Christian hip-hop and R&B
concerts, which include a graffiti expo on a portable wall
the church built. The church recently completed construction
on a basketball court and, thanks to a $13,000 grant, a
10,000- square-foot skate park complete with half-pipes,
ramps and rails.
doesn’t look like your typical church,” says
Kyllonen, noting that the church is covered with murals.
“The crowd we’re reaching doesn’t want
to come into a place where there’s pews and stained-glass
who is known as Spec, says Crossover’s hip-hop environment
led him to accept Christ as Savior at a youth service in
[people] here that looked like dudes from around my block,”
says the 25-year-old Spec, who as a teen regularly sprayed
graffiti on the streets of Long Island, N.Y. “I felt
comfortable because I could be myself.”
Now Spec puts
his love for Christ into his love for art. He is Crossover’s
media director, designing promotional graphics, fliers and
the church’s Web site.
was all I knew,” Spec says. “Hip-hop isn’t
our god, but we use what we know as a tool for Christ.”
300 people from ages 18-50 attend Sunday morning services
at Crossover, and the church recently added a second service.
On Thursday nights more than 60 teens attend a junior high-only
hip-hop youth service that started last year with 15, while
220 senior high and young adults meet in the main auditorium.
plugged into small group Bible studies. The church has drama
teams, a choir, and open microphone and poetry nights.
Youth can purchase
Christian hip-hop music from Crossover’s CD store.
The church also has a hip-hop shop and a skate shop, and
produces a magazine.