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Exalt Church in West Mifflin uses up-tempo atmosphere, technology

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
Members react to the Exalt Worship leading the praise at Exalt Church in West Mifflin on Sunday October 21, 2012. Exalt Church rents the gym in Wilson Christian Academy for its Sunday worship services. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Anna Dormihal (left and her daughter Stephanie, age 18 (right) of Elizabeth raise their arms in praise of God at Exalt Church in West Mifflin on Sunday October 21, 2012. Exalt Church rents the gym in Wilson Christian Academy for its Sunday worship services. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Nicole Bilsky extends her hand in worship of God at Exalt Church in West Mifflin on Sunday October 21, 2012. Exalt Church rents the gym in Wilson Christian Academy for its Sunday worship services. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

About 70 people seated in folding chairs in a gym in West Mifflin listened intently to a casually dressed man speak about the impact of making mistakes.

“God is a victim of our war against responsibility,” said the Rev. Thomas Ondrea, 39, who wore jeans and tennis shoes at Exalt Church while delivering a sermon, one in a series he gives on “Five Easy Ways to Wreck Your Life.”

Ondrea spoke to members of the nondenominational church on Sunday, after a concert-like, musical portion of worship.

Exalt Church's modern approach to delivering an age-old biblical message is rooted in an equally modern method: social networking.

A West Mifflin couple, Joshua and Nicole Bilsky, found Exalt's congregants and leadership via the Internet after not being able to find a church that fulfilled their spiritual needs, they said.

“We really felt like we were being called to put this vision out there and see where it went,” said Joshua Bilsky, 32, marketing director for Exalt and an information-technology manager who is a contractor for the Department of Energy.

Beginning in January, the couple found band members, a youth pastor and a community group director via craigslist. To publicize the church, videos of services were posted on YouTube and links to videos were included in e-mailed newsletters.

Exalt used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word.

On Sept. 9, about 150 people, including youngsters in the children's ministry, attended the inaugural service of Exalt. It meets in Wilson Christian Academy on Clairton Road. While the school has no ecumenical ties to Exalt, its director, Chadd Schafer, is Joshua Bilsky's brother-in-law. The academy rents its gym for Exalt's sanctuary and some of its classrooms for the church's children's groups.

“I really feel like in the area that we're in, there's just not a lot of churches that do what we do,” said Nicole Bilsky, 30, volunteer coordinator at Exalt and a professional development coordinator for a Downtown-based consulting firm.

Joshua Bilsky explained that the church offers a format that its members find exhilarating and welcoming. It relies on technology — such as its concert-style worship service that incorporates light and sound boards and screens — to create an up-tempo atmosphere. Exalt keeps members connected and its mission advanced via social networking.

Combined with sermons that are applicable to real life, Exalt has attracted attract younger members, Bilsky said. About 50 percent are younger than 40 years old.

West Homestead resident Angellia Logsdon, 20, said she and her family, which includes her mother Lisa and father Ken, attend Exalt because of its charged format.

“We were attracted to something that was new and exciting, people who were excited for Christ,” she said.

Ondrea, 39, was one of about 50 pastoral applicants the Bilskys screened from a website that advertises church jobs.

A Wilkes-Barre native, Ondrea, who had been a teaching pastor at Upward Church in Norfolk, Va., moved from Virginia Beach with his wife, Christine, 35, and sons, Seth, 10, and Tyler, 9, to West Mifflin in August to become Exalt's lead pastor, he said.

Ondrea's brother David Ondrea, 26, and his wife, Amy, 23, moved from California's Sacramento area so that David Ondrea could become Exalt's director of worship and media, Thomas Ondrea said.

He said he and his brother, who are volunteers at Exalt, planned on moving here whether they had jobs or not.

“The main reason why we came to Pittsburgh was to plant the church,” he said.

He had savings from Upward and an offering that the congregation collected for his and his family's relocation, he said.

He had savings from a part-time job as a financial adviser for military members through a Department of Defense program.

The Ondreas found jobs at Wilson Christian Academy. Thomas Ondrea is a Bible teacher and David Ondrea is a music teacher.

“God's been good, and he's been providing for us since we've been here,” Thomas Ondrea said.

Munhall resident Paula Paterlini, 43, who is an accountant at Wilson, said she and her daughter Alyssa, 13, began attending Exalt because of its contemporary music, informal dress code, and its sermons.

“I think the messages (Thomas Ondrea has) been delivering since he started have all been relevant to everyone's life,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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