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Mega-progress at a megachurch

Going from a rented room in a hotel to a 2,300-member congregation 15 years later, Kingdom Life Christian Church's story is a study in how a megachurch succeeds.

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In 1991, Pastor Jay Ramirez rented a room in a Ramada Inn off Interstate 95 and started preaching. Tonight he roves the stage of plush Kingdom Life Christian Cathedral, which is packed with an enthusiastic crowd. After 14 eventful years, his congregation, now about 2,300, is hosting an international conference on church growth. And Bishop Ramirez is ordaining pastors from several countries.

"God's going to knock us out of our comfort zones," he cautions the gathered faithful. "God is at work in the world ... and is building a spiritual city, a spiritual Jerusalem.... Every stage is going to be uncomfortable ... until we are in the divine order."

This nondenominational megachurch, which has passed through challenging stages itself, is now flourishing, along with hundreds of other megachurches that are reshaping the religious landscape in the United States. A national survey released last week found twice as many as there were five years ago. The late management guru Peter Drucker called the megachurch "the only organization ... actually working in our society," and said it had much to teach other institutions.

What makes them work? Why are Americans shifting in droves to the largest church communities?

Conventional wisdom says their popularity lies in people's penchant for anonymity and that the churches bow to a consumer mentality, redesigning worship, buildings, and theology for a more comfortable experience. Some charge they're businesses in disguise, building empires through marketing and televangelism.

Clearly, there are varieties of megachurches. Yet visits to this one in Milford, Conn., suggest deeper explanations for their appeal. One of the oldest towns in America, Milford boasts Cape Cod houses on shady streets, a beachfront on Long Island Sound, and miles of strip malls along US Route 1. It's becoming a bedroom community for New York City.

Started with the aims of reaching the unchurched and creating a faith community that "demonstrates the kingdom of God on earth," Kingdom Life Christian Church (KLCC) has had a visible impact on members, on Milford, and beyond.

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