Church gives away its building for the good of its neighborhood
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
What’s the most valuable object your neighbor ever gave you?
Most neighbors will give you a cup of sugar. Neighbors naturally give away the clothes and nearly-new shoes their children outgrew.
Your more generous neighbor will share ― not give ― the power tool you only need once. Then, of course, there’s also the neighbor with a truck who loans ― not gives ― that truck when neighbors move.
What if your neighbor gave you their church building?
That’s what happened to Chapelstreet Church, said Andrew Griffiths. He pastors the fourth campus of the Chicago-area church. The new campus in North Aurora, Illinois, worshiped for the first time September 26.
A couple of years ago, a man who worshiped at Chapelstreet was talking with Frank Russo, his neighbor. Russo pastored Cornerstone Community Baptist Church at the time.
The neighbors were talking about the church’s ministry within the community over the last 10 years. The aging congregation at Cornerstone, Russo said, still wanted Christ’s will for the North Aurora community. Therefore, Russo wondered if Chapelstreet would consider merging with Cornerstone.
“He didn’t want to see gospel ministry stop,” Griffiths said. “The whole story of this campus came out of two neighbors talking about how gospel ministry might continue in their neighborhood.”
The chapel belongs on the street, in the neighborhood
Although Russo couldn’t have known it, God had been influencing the congregation and leaders of Chapelstreet Church with a new vision. Instead of growing bigger and bigger ― 2500 worshiped at the only Chapelstreet campus a few years ago ― the head of the church set a new course.
Not to say the old vision didn’t have a lot of momentum. After all, there were a few thousand people in worship every weekend. People were driving in from the western Chicago suburbs, including Geneva, St. Charles and North Aurora. There was Bible teaching and ministry in and through various groups of people.
Moreover, the church purchased a second property near the Geneva campus. The plan was the second location would offer more contemporary worship and new ministry activities.
Then, suddenly, an economic crash came. Now, that second building was worth less than the church paid for it.
“We became a multi-campus church almost by accident,” Griffiths said. Staff sometimes joked among themselves that Chapelstreet was one church connected by a mile-long corridor.
Bruce McEvoy joined Chapelstreet in 1997 as the junior high pastor. He now serves as the local and global impact pastor and the is part of the North Aurora campus core team.
McEvoy said, “For nearly 25 years, I’ve been part of a church that continues to ask the question, ‘How can we make more of a gospel impact?’”
New churches and compassion ministry have increased Chapelstreet’s influence in neighborhoods in the last five years. The Shepherd’s Heart Crisis Care Center is a ministry of all Chapelstreet churches to serve families in severe need.
As the churches opened and the center’s diverse emergency ministry activities helped others, more and more of the vision became a reality.
“God started moving our family toward the neighborhood vision,” Griffiths and the staff now recognize.
Before they understood all the dynamics, they believed God knew what he was doing. So, the leaders and congregation waited on the Lord. They earnestly prayed and sought God’s will and direction.
No. Wait, wait, yes.
During that time, a church from the Mill Creek neighborhood approached Chapelstreet leaders. That church had debt and attendance wasn’t growing. They wanted to know if Chapelstreet would unite with them so Mill Creek would still have gospel-proclaiming churches.
Through prayer, retreats and conversations, Chapelstreet realized the union was right. But that’s not to say a merger was easy. Leaders initially said no because becoming a multisite church wasn’t in Chapelstreet’s DNA.
That’s when God helped the church fully grasp what was coming.
“As a church, we don’t want to build a bigger and bigger box in one location,” Griffiths said. “We want to become a church that multiplies ourselves out into the neighborhoods of our congregation.” That way, he said, they can “meet people where they are and bring the gospel to them.”
The church’s next step meant changing its name from First Baptist Church of Geneva to Chapelstreet. Then the congregation approved merging with the Mill Creek church, and the people paid off the debt.
Having no debt, a new name and a new vision positioned Chapelstreet for the day when Russo started talking to his neighbor.
“It was just a season of God calling us to do this,” Griffiths concludes. “He keeps providing everything we need. Even in the midst of COVID, we started planning what it looks like to start a church.”
A pretty wild ride
What led up to the launch of the North Aurora campus has been a pretty wild ride for the core team of sixty or seventy families, Griffiths said.
Opening the new church meant planning and praying as a core team. Plus, connecting with the community and building relationships. Meanwhile, a construction company was renovating and modifying the building where the North Aurora church would gather.
Griffiths had been the director of ministries to middle school students. He stopped serving in that role to become campus pastor. Years before, Chapelstreet’s senior pastor accepted him as the church’s first pastoral resident. The residency initiative offers ministry experience to people with ministry education.
“All the homiletics classes in the world don’t prepare you for being in the room with people and communicating in an effective way,” Griffiths said about his need for training. “You can have the science and not the art.”
After he finished his master’s degree at Knox Seminary, Griffiths wanted to enter the ministry. The pastoral residency gave Griffiths time under another pastor’s leadership. There, he gained more competency in the diverse skills needed for pastoral work. During the residency, Griffiths and his wife Janae knew he would someday be a pastor.
After he shifted from ministry to middle school students to pastor the fourth campus, Griffiths began focusing on monthly times in prayer and dreaming with the core team about how the church would distinctly serve North Aurora. There were also building renovations happening at the former Cornerstone building.
Chapelstreet follows Christ among Hindus and particle scientists
The new campus sits between lower-income housing, where people receive government assistance, and $500,000 houses. The North Aurora area is more diverse than the towns where the other Chapelstreet congregations worship.
Four miles southwest of Chapelstreet’s building is a massive Hindu temple. On 20 acres, local Hindus gather with international visitors to worship at shrines connected to numerous deities.
Six miles in the other direction sits Tevatron. Only a decade ago, scientists researched particles using what was then the world’s fastest particle accelerator. The facility is now closed, although many labs still surround the inactive research site.
In this time and place, Griffiths expected to have a hard time discussing Jesus with people. He anticipated many to view him as a judgmental evangelical.
“What is surprising is how open people really are to talking about Jesus and wanting to learn about things of faith.” he said. “There is an overwhelming majority of people who want to have relationships and they’re very interested to hear what you believe and why you believe it.”
McEvoy sees a great opportunity in North Aurora for more service to others.
“Because of how the campus is positioned directly across the street from both an elementary school and a nursing home, it immediately creates opportunities to love our neighbors well and ultimately expose them to the truth of the gospel,” he said.
Starting those relationships on the right foot
Griffiths said many churches, including those in his native Britain, try to get people to come to them. But, instead, he believes the church he leads is increasingly going to people.
People from the church met with the principal of the elementary school and started helping with maintenance projects. Someone else from Chapelstreet organized donations of needed and wanted items for residents at the nursing home.
“When we have gone to people where they are already are, where they’re already in need, and we bring the gospel unashamedly and clearly – we always bring the gospel into it – they’ve been very open to hearing about the gospel,” Griffiths said.
The pastor said such a motivation is rooted in the church’s understanding of Christ’s incarnation.
“He still came into our world and sat next to us and wept with us and all the rest of it,” Griffiths said. “That informs us as a church, that we want to meet you where you are. The gospel has something to say about where you are and it’s going to call you to come out of that. But it meets you on your terms, gives grace and help you in your place.”
Years ago, a Christian from Texas, Toby Tull, visited Griffiths’ hometown, Hartlepool, to share the gospel. Although Griffiths’ mother and sister followed Jesus, he was uninterested in the kingdom until Tull came to the coastal town in northeast England.
“For me, what dissuaded me from going to church wasn’t that I was afraid of [God.] I just didn’t think he was interested in me. I thought I was invisible entirely,” Griffiths said. “What changed my mind was a guy came over from the United States. He was the first man in my life to talk about Jesus.”
That man was Toby Tull.
“When he prayed to Jesus, I knew he was talking to someone,” Griffiths said. “I was fascinated by how interested he was in Jesus.”
Tull and Griffiths kept in touch over the ocean and time zones. Over time, Griffiths saw the Bible come alive to him. Moreover, Jesus and his people became the deepest desire of Griffith’s heart.
To continue growing in his faith, Griffiths moved near Waco, Texas, where Tull lived. Years and years later, Griffiths still misses fish and chips, sausage rolls and Victoria sponge cakes. Even so, the British man is forever grateful for the warm, extroverted Texans who were serious about being disciples.
“When I saw it in practice, people just living life together and caring more about their neighbors, man I loved it,” he said. “They were all about small groups, doing life together. The whole vision of that church was Acts 2:42-47.”
Now, for those who live west of Chicago, Chapelstreet changed its name, vision and ministry model to help people where they are. Giving grace within neighborhoods is the focus of every Chapelstreet campus.
“We wanted to replicate gospel ministry and kingdom impact in our own neighborhoods,” he said. “This isn’t about coming to this building on Sunday. This is about recreating the kingdom. We want our members to become chapels on their streets, people who live out the life of Christ in their own location.”
God has answered many, many prayers
Many people from the Cornerstone church that gave their building to Chapelstreet joined the launch team of the new church. Their gratitude for God’s grace still at work in North Aurora stirred their hearts in the first worship service.
“When they walked in the building, and for the first time saw young kids playing, and full seats instead of empty pews, a lot of them were emotional,” Griffiths said. “[God] didn’t just grow Chapelstreet. He answered the prayers of a church [that] had been dying and showed them he was faithful. He showed them ministry was going to continue.”
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.