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Pastor preaches outside the box

Walking in, it looks more like a coffeehouse. In fact, there’s a coffee bar and a lounge area with couches.

Down the hall, teenage boys shoot hoops and billiards in the rec room. On the opposite end, there’s a chapel.by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Jason Roeder played college basketball before settling into his new profession.

Despite the appearance, this is a church.

Actually, it’s considered a megachurch, because Abundant Life serves 2,500 members. And that’s only the people who show up each Sunday.

Abundant Life began 24 years ago in Happy Valley. That location is one of two main campuses, with other satellite locations as well. The Sandy location, which used to be a Game Galaxy, is only 3 years old. Before moving in, the Sandy branch met at the Mount Hood Athletic Club.

“We had people come in with their workout clothes,” Pastor Jason Roeder said. “We’d have the spin class over there, and they’d come in after their workout.”

“I never did find another church that was in an athletic club,” added TJ Johnson, a church leader who helped with the remodel for the new location. “We basically outgrew our Happy Valley location.”

Roeder calls the model “church in a box,” describing the expansion efforts from the original campus, where a satellite church will establish itself (like in an athletic club) and then find a way to put down roots.

“We’d been looking for Sandy here because so many people are from Sandy,” Johnson said.

“So five years ago we looked at several spots. We’d looked at this location, but it was not financially viable. But after the economy tanked, it became more affordable and we got a great lease deal for this place.”

The church spent one year remodeling the space with the help of volunteers. To create a theme, they used wood from one barn in McMinnville and one in Molalla. The motif gives the touch of a carpenter to the church, likely no accident.

Abundant Life operates on all the levels associated with a megachurch. Sermons from the main campus in Happy Valley are played on DVD each Sunday, with Roeder conducting live lessons as well. Being a Sandy resident as well, he likes to keep it local that way.

“A shepherd knows his flock,” Roeder said.

Another megachurch element, Roeder said, is the interactive online component.

“We stream our services live, and there’s a live person available to pray with people and answer questions during the service,” he said.

With the technology, the coffee lounge feel and the “megachurch” label, some might dismiss Abundant Life as too big and flashy, more of a Wal-Mart than a church. But in the name of relevance in a modern world, Johnson said the church is on the mark.

“I love what Dave says about that,” said Johnson, referring to Abundant Life leader and Happy Valley Pastor Dave Proehl. “He says we have the greatest story ever told, and we have the privilege to use any means necessary to keep it relevant. Whatever keeps that relevant, and what tells the story is great.”

Abundant Life is part of a network of like-minded Christian churches, Johnson said.

“The brotherhood of Christian churches is a collection of churches,” he said. “There’s no central power, and it’s very loosely formed. But what is standard are the beliefs. We’re strictly a Bible-based church, and as far as I know we are the largest Christian church in Oregon. But a person could have Christian in their name, but not necessarily share the same beliefs. So the brotherhood are churches that have a common history.”

Such a large church does have the means to do large things. Abundant Life is sending a group to Cambodia and another to Uganda.

“We also built a church in Ecuador,” Johnson said.

On a local level, there were just fewer than 500 kids at the Vacation Bible School in Happy Valley.

In Sandy, each Christmas the church partners with The Smoky Hearth restaurant to serve a traditional dinner to anyone who shows up. As far as their Sundays go, it’s more than coffee and basketball.

“What we want people to do is they’re going to attend a weekend service, and then they join a life group,” Roeder said. “We use semesters for life groups; that way people can go for one semester and have a break, and then try out another one. We also want them to share their story and serve. So every member is a minister. We want it to be easy for everybody to be able to find a way to serve. Part of our job as leadership is to find pathways for people to serve.”