LAYTON -- It is quite the complex, staffed with people with smiles on their faces and involved in good works. There are classrooms, halls decorated with flags from around the world, offices for church and school personnel, gathering places, a gym, a bookstore and a large worship chapel.
The Christian Life Center in the northeast corner of Layton has soared since its move in 1988 from a small chapel in downtown Layton to its current location. After starting with a single building, it has grown into a complex that now also houses Layton Christian Academy, a popular private school for many denominations in the area.
Its leader, Myke Crowder, has been with the Assembly of God-affiliated church since 1986. He came to Utah, selecting Layton over Logan, from his hometown of Joplin, Mo. He said he became a Christian at age 12 and, by 16, he was "charting a course" to be in the ministry.
Crowder, who got his start as a minister at several churches in Missouri, said he is happy with the strength and growth of the center, but he remains worried about the moral direction of the world and hopes to prepare those who attend the center to be ready spiritually for whatever comes.
"There were 50 to 60 people in the little church on Golden Avenue, and it grew very quickly," Crowder said. "In less than two years, we built the first building up here.
"I'm in my 28th year now. I once was a young man, now I'm old. The church now has a couple of thousand, maybe closer to 2,300 members, and this is where they go to church. We will have, give or take, a thousand on any given Sunday. It goes up on some Sundays, and on special Sundays, it goes way up. The school? I believe we started it in 1992."
Crowder said he felt called to be in Layton and loves the mountains and the dry air away from the humidity that often plagues the Midwest.
He said a lot has changed since he got here.
"There wasn't even a hotel in Layton in 1986, when I came. It was a little more glorified than almost a rural town. There was a lot of open acreage, a lot of horses and farm-type stuff. A lot of that has been built up on now. The people were good and very excited. We grew very quickly. How could we not?"
Crowder said when he came, there was a big divide between members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others.
"The people were very focused. When I came in 1986, there was a tremendous amount of angst between the Mormons and non-Mormons," he said. "It was ugly. It is much better today for everybody's efforts, I'm sure. It caused people to be very focused. For a pastor, it was good. I didn't have to ask people to get going."
Once the church started growing, Crowder began to think about opening a school.
"The school came about because I always felt a school was an appropriate ministry for a church if it was strong enough to do it right," he said.
"We waited until we had enough resources to really do it right. I didn't want a school that was a glorified Sunday school, with all respect to that. I wanted it to be academically accredited by all the proper associations, which we have been and are."
The Layton Christian Academy started with a preschool its first year, followed the next year by a kindergarten and then grades 1-6. LCA then added a grade every year until it got to 12. Crowder said he believes 66 seniors graduated last year.
Joy Collins, a member of the academy's second graduating class, is now a business, debate and public-speaking teacher at the high school.
"If it wasn't for Myke and the rest of the administration, we wouldn't have what we have today. I remember when wings were added to the school, and that was when I was going," she said.
"I know students are thankful when they look back at the warm, caring environment they had here, because you become part of the LCA family."
Crowder said even though the church is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, it is nondenominational.
"Our goal is to be a place where people can come and find spiritual training, comfort and help, but very much to also be an asset to the community and to help people with a ton of ministries," he said. "We have a lot of ministries for this size of a church."
Members of the church help feed the homeless. Youths and students at the school do service projects as part of a community outreach program. He said the church has ministries to help those battling addiction. There are ministries that provide divorce care. Crowder said these are just examples and that the list of ministries is really quite long.
Crowder and his son, Chris, recently returned from Moore, Okla., where they provided service and monetary and spiritual relief to people hit by a tornado last month that killed 24 people. That effort to help was spawned by a trip two years ago when Crowder and a group from his church went to his hometown of Joplin to assist with relief after a tornado killed 158.
Chris, the music and media pastor at the church as well as director of facilities, said the devastation is hard to comprehend and that "pictures don't do it justice."
He pointed out cars in the church parking lot, saying cars similar to those were just flattened in Oklahoma.
"Those tornadoes (Joplin and Moore) were both over a mile wide," his father said. "They just churned in 250 mph winds and leveled everything in their paths. It just makes toothpicks out of homes.
"The really hard part is the human toll. It is just emotion. You also have the fear of any storm that comes up after that. We hoped to provide a momentary boost. There wasn't one person we helped who didn't have tears. It is difficult to go there. It took me a couple of days just to catch myself back to normal."
Crowder and his staff, which he said isn't as big as it used to be because of the economy, work with a solid group of church members.
"Each of the staff does the work of two or three people. We also have an energetic congregation who are really excited about the Lord and his work," Crowder said.
"We have taught them to not be judgmental, let us love one another and accept difference. That includes building bridges with our Mormon friends."
The center offers a Sunday class called Mormonism 101. Many of the students at LCA are LDS. Crowder adds that many at his church have gotten to know their Mormon neighbors and that he supported Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012.
"Tremendous things are happening as we partner together (with the LDS Church)," he said.
You can hear the jets from Hill Air Force Base at the center. Base personnel are a big part of the church, both coming and going.
"Many people come in, and they are petrified of Utah. They are petrified of the Mormon community because of their differences in doctrines and teachings," Crowder said. "They are interested in a church like ours, which is good, but we can help them understand (the Mormon community).
"The base is huge in providing new people, of course, but it also takes people and relocates them. We joke, 'Lord, you took these. Now you owe us one.' "
Crowder says his church is a traditional Christian church. He believes marriage should be between a man and a woman and that abortion is wrong.
"From our point of view, it (gay marriage) isn't the right way to go for the country."
He said his church can't fix the moral problems of the country, but ... "Jesus told us what we need to do. We are to be the salt and light of the Earth. That is all we can do. Salt is a preservative.
"Our desire is to preach the gospel and preserve the moral fiber of this country. Light is to show them what the word says and the love of Christ."