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SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS FINDS WAY TO SPREAD ITS MESSAGE.

Byline: Holly J. Andres

Staff Writer

PORTER RANCH -- Poetically, they could be called hillocks, but hybrids is the official word being used by Shepherd of the Hills Church to call its expanding list of off-site worship centers.

With an average of 7,000 to 8,000 faithful regularly attending one or more of the five worship services from Saturday evening to Sunday, the bulging-at-the-seams, nondenominational church planted its first hybrid in October 2006: Westside Shepherd of the Hills Church.

The Westside hybrid's congregation gathers at the Wadsworth Theatre on the grounds of the Veterans Administration in Brentwood. The Rev. Dudley C. Rutherford, senior pastor of Shepherd of the Hills, drives over the hill almost every Sunday to deliver the message.

The megachurch -- church lingo for a congregation with more than 2,000 members, and Shepherd of the Hills has close to 12,000 -- is getting ready to launch its 2008 hybrids in Lancaster and Compton.

They will join Westside Shepherd of the Hills Church and the congregations in Agua Dulce, Pasadena, Woodland Hills and Fremont in Northern California.

"We're not here to see how many in numbers we can get. There are literally millions of people in our area that don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ," said the Rev. William Lee, pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Pasadena. "We know the peace and joy that come through Jesus Christ. We want everyone to have the hope and eternal life."

Shepherd of the Hills has a reputation for spirit-moving music and preaching, but the thought that it entertains Christians just for the sake of a two-thumbs-up review is a misguided impression.

"We're not trying for entertainment but, yes, in our worship services we use every gift and talent. We're driven by this idea of God's grace and love," Lee said.

The current Shepherd of the Hills Church congregation is the product of a merger with Hillcrest Christian Church, founded in 1952. Rutherford became its pastor in 1987.

The Rev. Jess Moody led the congregation at First Baptist Church of Van Nuys into its transformation and move to Porter Ranch as Shepherd of the Hills. Moody, who was retiring, approached Rutherford with the merger idea. The two congregations voted to merge in October 1995. By 1999, the church on the hill had more than 3,000 members.

"It's always been in my heart to be a pastor of a large church. God intended for the church to grow," Rutherford said. "There's an old quote that says, it's not a sin to be a small church but it is a sin to stay a small church."

Rutherford recalled a long-ago football game he attended in Oklahoma. As he looked around the capacity-filled stadium, he thought, "This is how church should be."

"People go to a Dodger game, USC-UCLA games and think nothing about the crowd being too large," Rutherford said. "Why shouldn't people think that about a church?"

Members of Shepherd of the Hills' main site and the hybrids break down into small groups after the worship service.

One challenge for the hybrids is space. Shepherd of the Hills Pasadena holds its Sunday service at the Laemmle One Colorado Cinema in Old Town Pasadena. The middle and high school youth group at Westside Shepherd of the Hills Church hold their Wednesday meetings in the community room at the Westside Pavilion mall.

Word of mouth from members is the No. 1 way Shepherd of the Hills publicizes its worship services, events and classes, Rutherford said.

"The number one thing people are spiritually seeking is the truth. Pastor Dudley preaches the Bible, the truth that we need to know. No, not all pastors do that," said the Rev. Danny Furukawa from Westside Shepherd of the Hills Church.

"I think some pastors change the message into just a positive-thinking message."

Rutherford said he preaches live 33 times a year. His sermons are recorded as high-definition broadcasts the remainder of the year. The hybrids use a combination of his recorded sermons with live ones from their own pastor.

"People love the diversity at this church. It still is true, even now in 2008, that the most segregated hour of the week is in church. But not here at Shepherd of the Hills," Rutherford said. "We have a true ethnic blend. The diversity of our membership is the way heaven is going to be."

Worship services: 5 and 6:30 p.m. today and 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m.; Spanish language, 1:30 p.m.; college and young adult service, 6 p.m. Sunday, Shepherd of the Hills Church, 19700 Rinaldi St., Porter Ranch. Call 818-831-9333. Shepherd of the Hills Pasadena, 9:15 a.m. Sunday, Laemmle One Colorado Cinema, 42 Miller Alley, Pasadena. Call 818-831-9333, Ext. 269. Westside Shepherd of the Hills Church, 11 a.m. Sunday, Wadsworth Theatre, on the Veterans Administration campus, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. Call 310-551-0100. www.theshepherd.org.

holly.andres(at)dailynews.com

818-713-3708

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Pastors Danny Furukawa, Dudley C. Rutherford and William Lee, from left, lead Shepherd of the Hills Church, which is expanding with off-site worship centers.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 26, 2008
Words:858
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