Roy Darby stood in the back of the auditorium, snapping his fingers to Christian music and passing out bulletins--and occasional hugs--as more than 500 people filed into Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach.
Inside, the audience stood and sang, swaying and clapping and reaching toward the ceiling as Christian singer Jamie Owens-Collins entertained before the start of an evangelical service.
"Good stuff," said Darby, "compared to what I used to do on Friday nights--get wasted" on alcohol and, occasionally, drugs.
"Now I don't need that," continued Darby, 28, who attributes the changes in his life during the past two years to his involvement with Hope Chapel.
"A friend of mine brought me here to meet girls," Darby said. "I found the Lord instead."
Darby is not alone. So many people have been drawn to the 16-year-old Hope Chapel congregation in Hermosa Beach that the church has branched out--a move Hope officials refer to as "planting a church."
So far, 42 Hope Chapels with a total of more than 10,000 members have sprung up throughout Southern California and elsewhere, the most recent in Redondo Beach, Carson and Nashua, N. H.
The Hermosa Beach chapel is becoming an increasingly well-known institution in the area. It is a major element in the lives of many of its members, some of whom turn to Hope Chapel for everything from upbeat religious services to financial counseling, intimate prayer meetings to emotional support groups, from outreaches to sports clubs.
Associate pastor Don Stewart describes Hope Chapel as "evangelical, fundamental (and) charismatic." Its slogan is "Give 'em Heaven."
Most of the 2,250 members of the Hermosa Beach congregation are young--in their early 30s and half are single, according to church officials. Most live within a five-mile radius of the church.
"Our target audience . . . are baby boomers--people between the ages of 20 and 40," said Stewart, who like other church officials is fond of using marketing terms to describe church activities and talks about the church as a business, although it is nonprofit.
"We go out of our way to avoid religious jargon," Stewart said. "We teach religious truths, but in non-religious terms," he said.
One of Stewart's favorite books, he said, is "A Passion for Excellence," a best-seller on business success by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin, and he often recommends it to others.
Stewart, who is the church's second-ranking official, is careful to observe that the book does not conflict with the Bible's doctrines. The church teaches its congregation to live by the Bible's words, literally.
Hope Chapel is affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a Los Angeles-based evangelical church founded in 1923.
Ralph Moore started Hope Chapel in 1971 in Manhattan Beach. In 1976, when the congregation outgrew those facilities, the church moved into an abandoned bowling alley at 2420 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach, where it remains. Moore left the Hermosa Hope Chapel in 1983 to open chapels in Hawaii and Zac Nazarian has been the pastor of the chapel since then.
The Hermosa Beach chapel has 11 ministers licensed by the Foursquare Church and 60 other full-time and 70 part-time employees and operates on an annual budget of nearly $3 million, of which 42.8% is used for salaries, Stewart said.
He declined to disclose the salaries of the pastors, but said that they make only about half of what an executive who runs a business the size of Hope Chapel earns. "Pastors are notoriously underpaid," he added.
The church seems to have good relations with other denominations in Hermosa Beach.
Bill Weaver, pastor of the New Life Church in Hermosa Beach, said, "We have sent a great host of people (to Hope) because as a small church, you find very quickly that you can't meet all the needs of the people."
His church, part of the Assembly of God denomination, started with only eight members two years ago and has grown to about 70.
"I believe they're on target with what they're teaching and their ministry," he said. "They are actively involved in the community and they are ministering to a large cross-section of the community."
Every weekend, Hope Chapel has five services that last 1 1/2 to 2 hours each. About 60 non-members attend those services each week, Hope Chapel officials said, which is proof to them that they are reaching the community.
Several members said that they first came to the church with friends or relatives and were impressed by the casual atmosphere and fellowship.
Claudia Hassanally, 38, was "literally shopping around for a church I felt comfortable bringing my kids to" when she began attending Hope Chapel about three years ago.
Her daughters, ages 13, 10 and 7, are enthusiastic about attending services each weekend, she said. As for herself, "I wanted to learn what was in the Bible in a positive atmosphere."
Humor in Sermons