Central Church is set up to look like Whoville to accompany this year’s Christmas sermon series, “Stealing Christmas.”
Central Church is set up to look like Whoville to accompany this year’s Christmas sermon series, “Stealing Christmas.”

December 23, 2016

When a man walked into Central Church for its Easter service this year, he wasn’t expecting much.

He definitely wasn’t expecting what he got.

The lights went down, smoke swirled on the stage, and “the rock band,” as he described it in an email later, kicked off.

“There was an amazing dude on drums that was beating the drums for all (he was) worth, a guy hammering the electric guitar, keyboards and a girl singing with a voice that only God could provide,” he wrote in the email. “ I remember thinking, hey, this will be entertaining, if nothing else.”

Then there was the music played by the worship band. AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.” Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Adele. Katy Perry.

“I love the fact that the band in a church would play AC/DC, of all things,” he wrote. “I remember thinking to myself that maybe

I have found a place I belong. Maybe I had found something that I had been looking for.”

And when Central’s lead pastor, Ryan Gallegos, started preaching, the visitor leaned over to his wife and asked if she’d met Gallegos and told him about all of his problems. How did he know?

“I thought, does he really struggle with things like me?” the man wrote in the email. “How can this guy stand up there and admit he struggles with sin like all of us? It was the most real thing I have ever experienced.”

When Gallegos asked who in the audience wanted to become a Christian at the end of the service, the man wanted to be the first one at the front of the room.

He didn’t move quite quickly enough and was the third who stood up during that service.

What he found that day is a familiar story for many who attend Central.

Central Church is, quite simply, different.

With its modern, contemporary feel and casual atmosphere, Central is anything but traditional.

Anything goes in one of Gallegos’ messages, who joked one day that members should say they gutted a chicken at that day’s service when they’re asked, “What the heck do you guys do out there at Central?” and noted during another sermon that a lot of marriage counseling can be boiled down to telling couples to grow up.

“I think it’s important to meet people where they are,” Gallegos said. “We’re not meeting people from 1800s churches. We don’t talk like that anymore; we don’t act like that. Times change, but the message of Jesus doesn’t. We have to make the message of Jesus relevant for today.”

Central does that with popular music — AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” opened another service — and often-humorous messages that nevertheless are always rooted in the Bible’s teachings, Gallegos said.

The church’s worship band is fantastic, he added.

“We understand music creates atmosphere,” Gallegos said. “If we want to create a place where people can meet Jesus, it really starts with (the band).

“If you can play a song like Hells Bells — it just tears down so many walls.”

And the church isn’t afraid to mix it up. Right now, the stage has been transformed into Whoville to accompany the sermon series “Stealing Christmas.”

“We’re just weird,” Gallegos said.

And in the past few years, “weird” has translated into major growth for the church.

Members of Central Church, which was created about two decades ago, met in several places over the years, including Carroll’s movie theater and the conservation center at Swan Lake, before its current building was erected at 24336 U.S. Hwy. 30. That was about three years before Gallegos moved to Carroll to serve as the church’s head pastor in 2012.

In the past few years, the church also has dramatically grown in the missions it supports, with tens of thousands of dollars going last year to domestic and international missions and organizations. Internationally, the church supports an orphanage in Malawi, a missionary who works with kids in Thailand, Bible study teachers in Brazil and a medical clinic in Zambia. In the U.S., the church supports Family Life, an organization that works to strengthen marriages, and Strip Church, an organization that reaches out to women who work in strip clubs and the sex industry. Locally, Central also supports the area Christian radio station, REAL 102.1.

Central Church also opened a youth center near Kmart recently, which offers youth group activities on Wednesday nights and an open space for area students to watch TV, play video and arcade games and hang out on Friday nights.

“I think people see it now as a service to the community, someplace safe to bring their kids,” Gallegos said.

Between 2012 and now, the church’s regular membership has grown from fewer than 100 to about 400. Visitors come from Carroll, Sac, Buena Vista, Calhoun, Crawford, Greene, Audubon and Guthrie counties. In May, Central began offering three services to accommodate its growing numbers — and its regular membership has grown by 100 since then to reach the current total of 400.

“I think it’s just because we’re real,” Gallegos said. “That’s the biggest thing. We feel like if we create an environment where people can meet Jesus, then they’ll come in and meet Jesus.”