Pastor Richard Cox doesn't need a pulpit to share God's love.
The leader of the newly organized Overflow Church believes in meeting people where they are, not having them come to him.
After he and his family moved to Altoona in June 2012, no formal services were held for about 15 months. Instead, Cox spent time getting to know the people of Altoona.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Richard Cox is pastor of Overflow Church, a work of the Wesleyan tradition. He and his family moved to Altoona in 2012 to establish the church with a focus on outreach and meeting the needs of young families and adults. He said the church, which officially opened at 127 Fifth Ave. a few months ago, is attended by all age groups.
The former outreach pastor at Hyde Wesleyan Church, Cox and a team of volunteers from Hyde started by performing simple gestures of kindness in Altoona. They topped off windshield wiper fluid for customers at a Sheetz convenience store last winter and made balloon animals for kids at the Super Hero event held in April at the Blair County Convention Center.
Cox facilitated classes on household finances at the Altoona Area Public Library, and Overflow sponsored a Family Fun Day in August at Valley View Park. About 500 people packed the park to enjoy free food, a concert, carnival-style games, an inflatable slide and bounce house.
Cox, who is 28, believes young adults don't attend church because they don't think it will make a difference in their lives.
"There is a difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus Christ," he said. "A lot of people in my generation look at the previous generation and believe they attended church because it was the right thing to do. It didn't affect other areas of their lives."
"They have a hunger for the real thing," Cox said.
A difference exists between a church-goer and a follower of Jesus, he said. For a person who has a relationship with Jesus, their faith affects every aspect of their lives.
Although the service does not begin until 10 a.m., families begin to gather about 9:15 a.m. in the cafe for coffee and doughnuts. When it is time for church to begin, children attend a service adapted to their age group in the basement.
Cox noted that parents can worship, knowing that their children are safe because of the church's computer check-in security system. It accounts for every child and lists any special information, such as a child's allergies. The computer prints out a code that is given to the parent and must be shown when he or she returns to pick up a son or daughter.
Children's church for kindergarten through fifth-grade students includes music, a video, a Bible story, craft and snack with the space decorated especially for them. A nursery provides care for infants and kids up to age 4.
"We value kids," said Cox, who is a father himself. He and his wife, Tonya, have two children: Caleb, 2, and Allison, 4 months.
Upstairs, adults worship at an upbeat service with videos, a band and Cox's message.
The video may tell a biblical-based story, but in an updated setting, and the music appeals to young adults. "The [music's] words focus on God, and the style is one people enjoy listening to," he said.
No service is ever routine, and Cox uses different media to keep it interesting.
Because Sunday is the Super Bowl, this week's video will feature an NFL player talking about what God has done in his life. People are encouraged to wear football jerseys, and party munchies will replace the coffee and doughnuts.
For the last week of February, Steve Albert, who owns an art gallery in Clearfield, will paint a picture with a surprise result while the congregation sings.
"The way we do things needs to change," Cox said about church. "We need an environment for today's generation to come and hear the message of Jesus. The message of Jesus stays the same in every culture."
He speaks from experience.
As a teenager, Cox lived in Swaziland, where his parents were missionaries.
"In Africa, the style is very different. It's a lot of dancing and celebration. The style fits the culture."
Cox attended Emmanuel Wesleyan Bible College in Manzini, Swaziland, and is a graduate of Kingswood University in Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, with a B.A. in religion.
He was ordained in 2009 at Hyde Wesleyan Church and spent a lot of time leading mission trips to Africa, Cambodia, China and Haiti. He and a team were in Haiti, when the earthquake hit in 2010.
"God's opened a lot of crazy doors. I just walk through them," Cox said.
Although he has been all over the world, Cox considers Pennsylvania home.
His parents, two brothers and Richard moved to the Indiana, Pa., area when Cox was 9. His father is a pastor and ministered in the Dixonville and Clymer area. He was born in Cincinnati and lived in Kentucky for awhile, but "Pennsylvania feels like home more than anywhere else I lived," he said. "I'm mainly from just outside Clearfield County."
When he came to Altoona to establish a church, Cox had some questions in mind. He thought: What does it mean to be the church, what does the church look like if it does not have walls and what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
He began by getting involved in the community. He volunteered at the Altoona Food Bank, became part of Leadership Blair County, was a soccer referee for the Altoona Rec Commission and helped with the Easter egg hunt at Veterans Field.
"God blesses us so we can bless the community," he said.
Overflow Church tries to bless others every month. In October, it partnered with Bethany Lutheran and Second Avenue United Methodist churches to hold a Trunk or Treat event for kids, and in November with New Life Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in East Freedom to give 44 Thanksgiving dinners to families. In December, Overflow distributed 211 blankets to 76 families at the library.
On Christmas Eve, about 120 people attended a service in a church that had no congregation a few months earlier.
Cox said about 80 people attend every Sunday.
"There has not been a Sunday when we don't have new guests," he said. "Many are staying and getting involved in the life of the church."