Tommy Kyllonen, better known as “Urban D” is pastor of Crossover Church in Tampa Florida—a large, urban, multi-ethnic and multi-generational church built on Purpose Driven strategies. In 1996, Tommy joined the staff as a youth pastor where he and wife, Lucy arrived fresh out of Southeastern Bible School in Lakeland.
As a former preacher’s kid from Philadelphia, his goal was to reach out to neighborhood youth. He was also busy launching his career as a Christian hip-hop artist under the name Urban D. Seeking ways to appeal to the community, Tommy offered sports clinics, basketball tournaments, loud music, and graffiti events for artists to tag walls. He also integrated rap into some of his sermons.
Thursday night youth gatherings started to grow and soon they were drawing bigger crowds than the Sunday services. Eventually the senior pastor told Tommy, “It’s your time. Take this church over and see what you can do.”
Tommy knew it would be a challenge, to go from running mid-week youth services to growing membership. By relying on the Purpose Driven structure, the staff began to promote New Testament principles of worship, fellowship, discipleship, serving, and evangelism.
It became the traditional side of Crossover Church, with nontraditional tools that helped set them apart and engage the community. Pastor Tommy carefully integrated a hip-hop context, music, dance, visual arts, media and relevant messages without compromising the truth of God’s Word.
While some may have doubted that Crossover could succeed by catering to the hip-hop culture, the church defied the odds and expanded to the point they outgrew their facility. That’s when Tommy challenged members to step out in faith and find a new home. He not only got their unanimous support, he also got support from Pastor Rick Warren.
Pastor Rick donated funds and made a promotional video encouraging other Christians to support Crossover Church and their outreach. Soon Crossover Church relocated to a 43,000 square foot retail building in the heart of Tampa’s inner city.
Since 1996, when Tommy was hired as a youth pastor, the congregation has grown from 40 to more than 1,000 members. Outreach Magazine has recognized Crossover as one of America’s Most Innovative Churches, and they’ve been featured in other media outlets including USA Today, Newsweek, CBS News, and BET News.
After becoming senior pastor in 2002, Tommy’s influence reached far beyond the Tampa area. His book, Un.orthodox: Church, Hip-Hop, Culture, was published by Zondervan in 2007. He’s been featured on TBN, 700 Club, and regularly on CTN and JUCE TV Networks. In his work as an internationally known hip-hop artist, “Urban D” has released eight full-length albums and several remix projects. He has performed and spoken at concerts and conferences across the U.S. as well as overseas in Japan, Australia, The UK, Germany, and Nigeria.
His book, Next Steps on Your Spiritual Journey, is written from an urban context and serves as a resource at his church for new believers. In 2012, he released ReBuild, a book published by InterVarsity Press that includes an album with 10 songs matching the content of the 10 chapters.
Today Tommy leads the Urban Coaching Network of ministers around the country, mentoring them on how to organize urban churches. He is founder of FlavorFest, Crossover’s annual teaching conference that focuses on training, resources, and developing emerging leaders.
Blending the three things he loves most—God, hip-hop, and serving others—Pastor Tommy is living God’s true plan for his life. “I think there’s always going to be that crowd that’s looking for something different, for something positive,” says Tommy.