Dream Center using clothing to initiate gospel conversations

A simple question posed by a minister at North Rock Hill Baptist Church challenged Paul and Barbara Crosby: “What if?”

Together they pondered, “What would our city look like if we loved like Christ loved?” And, through them, God birthed a vision for the Dream Center outreach in Rock Hill, which is spawning an unusual church plant.

In response, Crosby and his family moved into a socially and economically depressed community with a higher crime rate, and they started just getting to know their neighbors.

“Over the next three or four years, we had about 120 homes that we just loved on” Crosby said. But it was hard to get to know people. “We were mentoring, tutoring, and had a lot of programs running, but we knew that there was something more to do.”

About a dozen churches and numerous volunteers had joined them at the Dream Center, but their efforts weren’t seeing results. “We weren’t seeing transformations happening at a real high level,” he said. The reason, he believed, was that they were saying to the people they were trying to love and serve, “Hey, come to our church.”

Dream Center’s thrift-store approach draws people inside where they hear the gospel.

Even with the right hearts and church members wanting to connect with them, it was perhaps a little hard for them to connect, he thought. So, Crosby decided to start a church in his new community.

With Jay Hardwick, then pastor at North Rock Hill (before joining the staff of the South Carolina Baptist Convention) serving as a mentor, along with several others, they took the step to start the Dream Center Church in Rock Hill.

“Our vision is to see our communities transformed by the gospel, through loving, serving, sharing, and sending,” he said.

“Our mission is real simple. We want to see lives changed as we have a relationship with God and a relationship with others. Everything we do is about relationships.

“Sunday morning worship isn’t the biggest day of the week for us,” he added. “It’s the days leading up. It’s how we are loving God and loving others.”

The Dream Center is set up like a thrift store, but it has a coffee corner in the back, where staff members love on and try to discover the needs of shoppers.

“We sit down with them, present the gospel to them, hear their needs, pray with them, ask God to have compassion in our hearts for where they’re at,” he explained. “Then, we just serve them the best we can.”

The clothes aren’t the real ministry, he emphasized. “We just use clothes as an opportunity to hear people and meet them where they’re hurting. And that’s where we present the gospel,” Crosby said.

Through the Dream Center’s outreach, Garrett Bowman and the other staff members are being trained to listen to people as they look for clothes to discover other needs. After graduation from college, Bowman (who was involved in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry) was attending North Rock Hill Baptist and soon felt drawn to serve at the Dream Center.

“I was attracted to being a part of a community that looked a little different than me, but worshipped the same God,” Bowman said. At the Dream Center, “We’re just really trying to focus on letting this place be a hub for the community to come and gain the same healing that we all need in our lives,” he said.

But the center doesn’t just give clothes away; there’s often a request made. “We’ll give them an outfit,” Crosby added. “But what we do is say, ‘Hey, we need you. You’re just as important to God as we are. Will you come serve with us?’

“While we work beside them, we start talking to them about their children or their past, or who do they think God is,” he explained. “It leads into conversations about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. Do they understand the grace of Jesus?”

The Dream Center Church works off of four key concepts: love, serve, share, and send. “That’s just our model,” Crosby said. “It’s a simple model, but it’s an effective model. We look at everybody who walks in here whom we minister to as having a role to play,” he said. “People aren’t called to follow Jesus for 10, 15, 20 years, and just be an observer. We believe that God wants to use each and every one of His children, to bring Him glory.”