Cincinnati's largest church is about to get larger -- and break out of the Cincinnati metro area in the process.
Crossroads, which in recent years has had more than 20,000 people attend its weekend services on five campuses, plans to merge with the similarly named but unrelated Crossroads Christian Church in Lexington.
It's not a hostile takeover, but one made with the unanimous agreement of the elders who govern Crossroads in Lexington. It only needs a congregational vote on Nov. 20 to be complete.
Crossroads Christian pastor and founder Glen Schneiders feels the congregation will approve.
"As a church, we've never had any sort of a split," he said. "The people have always trusted their leaders … and that trust has been earned."
Crossroads Cincinnati senior pastor Brian Tome announced the merger to his congregation during services the weekend of Sept. 17-18.
He told the congregation that he called Schneiders, a good friend of his, because he had heard Schneiders was thinking about succession planning.
Schneiders, 63, said he and his church have been discussing the subject for about a year now. It's the most critical decision he'll ever make in ministry, he said.
"It's not so much about me retiring as what's best for our church," which needs a younger leader, he said. He's interested in stepping back into the role of advisor and strategic thinker.
Tome told his congregation that he said to Schneider, "This might just be a fart in the wind but ... do you think there's any consideration (of) Crossroads Cincinnati and Crossroads Lexington becoming one church?"
Schneiders said he replied that he had never considered that, but that his church had been through a similar experience soon after its founding, when it merged with Lakeview Christian Church in Lexington.
He told Tome he would have to pray about it and take the idea to the elders.
After giving it some consideration, the elders felt drawn to the idea and to Crossroads in Cincinnati, which he said felt like family to them.
Tome and Schneiders have known each other for about 15 years, and Crossroads in Cincinnati has shared some of its resources with Crossroads in Lexington, Schneiders said.
In his congregational message, Tome noted that both churches have the same kind of music and that Crossroads in Lexington has a creative experience for children that's very similar to the one at Crossroads in Cincinnati.
Neither church needs the merger in order to survive, Schneiders said. Both are healthy financially, he said, with Crossroads in Lexington having an annual budget of about $3 million, with some debt but a "very strong equity position."
Crossroads in Cincinnati reported $34.4 million in total giving during 2015. As WCPO.com previously reported, Crossroads last fall completed a capital campaign that raised more than $85 million in three-year pledges.
Schneiders and his wife started the Lexington church 29 years ago in November, he said, by making 11,000 phone calls to people who didn't have a church home.
"I had heard that new churches were the most effective way to reach un-churched people," he said. "I wasn't convinced that we had a lot of churches that were asking the right questions for people early in their spiritual journey."
They named it Crossroads because they wanted it to be for people at a crossroads in their spiritual journey, Schneiders said. It was purely a coincidence that Crossroads in Cincinnati took the same name when it was founded in 1995.
"When we started it, I knew of only one church across the country that had that name," Schneiders said.
The church met in a motel conference room for about six months, he said, then merged with Lakeview Christian, which needed new direction because its minister had resigned. That church building became a stepping stone for growth.
About 2,500 attend weekend services at one of Crossroads Christian's four Lexington campuses. The music is live, but Schneiders usually delivers the message at one campus and it's televised live to the other three.
At Crossroads in Cincinnati, Tome normally delivers the sermon at the Oakley campus, and it's piped live to the church's campuses in Mason, Florence, Uptown, Oxford and the West Side.
As WCPO.com also previously reported, the church recently upgraded its digital presence to create Crossroads Anywhere, a virtual campus that makes the church experience available to anyone with an internet connection.
In the combined church, Tome's message will simply be piped 90 miles away to the Lexington campuses.
Tome told his congregation that the two congregations will be better together.
"This is what Jesus does," Tome said. "He expands, he brings people together."
The elders had to ask themselves if the two churches would be better together, Schneider said, and concluded they would.
"It became a strong conviction that if we are really about the kingdom of God and not our personal kingdom, we're better together," he said. "We're willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen."