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December 31, 2000: California church trailblazer for city's revitalization

December 24, 2000: New Jersey township retracts impediment to A/G congregation

December 10, 2000: Christmas stocking project brings hope, gifts to needy kids

November 26, 2000: A/G church looks to second half-century with founding pastor

November 19, 2000: Quest for souls occupies Christians during Olympics

November 12, 2000: Three ministers reaching their world

October 29, 2000: A/G Minister to ride to each state capitol, pray for nation

October 22, 2000: Art academy connects students with Creator

October 15, 2000: Columbine survivors share testimonies, hundreds respond

October 8, 2000: Graham conducts final evangelism conference

September 24, 2000: Independent congregation receives help from Lousiana A/G church

September 17, 2000: California ministry team breaking strongholds

August 27, 2000: Bold outreach touches hurting in Allentown

August 20, 2000: Baptist church gives A/G congregation its facility

August 13, 2000: Climbers conquer Kilimanjaro, help A/G

July 30, 2000: Chicago church, city partner to improve lives of women, children

July 9, 2000: New Mexico fires damage A/G families’ homes

June 25, 2000: God moves in Mississippi high school assembly

June 18, 2000: California skate park becomes 'teen church'

June 11, 2000: Convoy and partners team up to reach poor

May 28, 2000: Tornado damages A/G church in Texas

May 21, 2000: National Prayer Center ministry expands reach

May 14, 2000: Adventure, ministry on Pathfinder missions

April 30, 2000: Church reaching deaf students in Louisiana

April 23, 2000: 40-day fasts unite, renew A/G churches

April 9, 2000: Colorado church booms with bilingual services

March 26, 2000: Cell groups strengthen California youth group

March 19, 2000: Michigan church bounces back from brink of closing

March 12, 2000: A/G man holds world arm-wrestling title

February 27, 2000: A/G minister helps others get their wings

February 20, 2000: Former editor with Christ

Calif. church trailblazer for city’s revitalization

(December 31, 2000)

An Assemblies of God congregation is leading the way to the revitalization of downtown Fresno, Calif. Cornerstone Church has bought property taking up two blocks of a 16-block area being transformed into an arts and entertainment district.

Pastor Jim Franklin describes how an old building will be renovated for church use.

Since Cornerstone purchased a theater building three years ago, a baseball stadium has been built nearby, a metropolitan museum across the road has been renovated, and the city, which has a population of 750,000, has spent $1.5 million on downtown street improvements.

For the 15-year-old Cornerstone, the changes began with the move from a 600-seat auditorium that had become too crowded for the growing congregation. In the seven years that senior pastor Jim Franklin has been there, the church has grown to a weekly average attendance of 2,500 from 300. Rather than flee to the suburbs, as many evangelical churches have done in recent years, Cornerstone moved eight blocks away.

"We’re committed to the downtown area," Franklin says. "This is where we were planted and this is where our ministry is. We believe God has anchored us here."

For services, the church meets in what had been the historic Wilson Theatre, built in 1927 as the first building west of Chicago with air conditioning. It has been refurbished with state-of-the-art sound and video systems. Franklin preaches from the same stage where the Marx Brothers performed comedy routines and Alice Cooper sang rock songs.

Cornerstone has been buying adjacent property to facilitate its various ministries. A former technical college now houses the church’s administrative offices and educational classrooms. A 23,000-square-foot youth center is located in what used to be an auto parts store. A former warehouse has been converted into a repository to stock food distributed in a Convoy of Hope-type ministry. Feeding Fresno distributed food to more than 400,000 people this year. A 30,000-square-foot conference center should be completed in May. Down the line, there will be a children’s center, bookstore and more parking lots. In all, the projects will cost $6 million.

Yet Cornerstone is saving money because of its location. "There are great bargains in the inner city where there are a lot of folks that need ministering to," Franklin says. "Property costs a third of what it does in the suburbs."

Although some church members have been attracted from outlying areas because of Cornerstone’s television ministry, most attendees live downtown. The congregation mirrors Fresno’s diversity, with about 45 percent being Hispanic, 25 percent African-American and the rest Asian and white.

"We’re the most racially diverse church in our city," says Franklin, originally from rural Oklahoma. The church has thrived during his tenure, even though he came with no understanding of gangs, poverty, violence or other problems that often plague urban areas. One reason, he believes, is that skin color is not an issue at Cornerstone. "People want to be accepted for who they are."

Churchgoers hail from a wide range of racial, educational and economic backgrounds. Some come in a Mercedes Benz; some come pushing a shopping cart.

"I was a man who needed help and there were people who reached out to me," says Danny Grijalva, who started attending Cornerstone seven years ago as a welfare recipient who had abused drugs and been in jail. Today he owns his own electrical and plumbing contracting business.

As church members discipled Grijalva, he in turn reached out to newcomers. Now he and his wife Betty lead the prayer and visitation programs and he heads the men’s ministry at the church.

Members are attracted because they feel useful in serving the Lord. Most of the programs are run by volunteers; in addition to Franklin, Cornerstone only has three associate pastors on the full-time payroll.

"We have people who have a mind to work," Grijalva says.

Randy Robinson, a drug store manager who started attending earlier this year, says the power of God attracted him and his family to Cornerstone.

"We got hooked the first service we visited," Robinson says. "The Holy Spirit was so powerful." The pastor’s can-do attitude of transforming the area inspires church members to follow suit, he says.

"Senior pastor Franklin is a man of big vision," Robinson says. "He doesn’t limit himself to what can be accomplished."

Franklin is quick to eschew plaudits.

"Our greatest resource is people who have a mind to work," he says. "These are people who love God and are willing to work for God. The inner city is where the great revivals of the past started."

Members sense that they are doing something to bring their city back to God, Franklin says, whether it be through a feeding program, Sunday school class or youth outreach. If visitors are merely attracted because of the renovated facilities, they won’t stay.

"If we pick our churches like our health club by the amenities that they offer, pretty soon we’ll find one that offers more amenities and move over there," Franklin says. There’s not much church switching at Cornerstone; no one has an opportunity to be bored.

— John W. Kennedy

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