By Tammy Melchien
“We need to plant campuses in the city!” It was a simple text. I typed the eight words to Community Christian Church’s lead pastor, Dave Ferguson, and hit SEND as I was finishing an overnight getaway in downtown Chicago.
I was energized by the past 24 hours in the city. I’ve always loved big cities. The energy. The life. The opportunities. Dave’s reply was simple too: “We do and we will!”
It wasn’t until the car ride back to my suburban home that it hit me. I was supposed to be part of the vision to reach this city.
For the previous seven years I’d served as director of children’s ministry at Community. During that time we grew from three campuses to nine that were helping people find their way back to God in the western suburbs. That simple text exchange led to conversations that gave birth to Chicago Impact, a vision for Community to launch three new campuses in the city of Chicago in three years.
You probably have heard that more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas. The World Health Organization estimates the global urban population will almost double to 6.4 billion people by 2040. Yet most cities are under-
Sure, there are a lot of challenges to planting churches in a city, but there is a tremendous opportunity too. Our cities are full of people who need to find their way back to God.
So in the summer of 2010, a small number of us began moving to the city of Chicago to begin Chicago Impact. Led by one of Community’s founding pastors, Jon Ferguson, we set out to plant a network of three Community Christian Church campuses on the north side of the city.
The campus I lead in the Lincoln Square neighborhood was the first to launch in March 2011. From our opening Sunday, we outlined our intention to be a church that was “for” this community. We want to be a blessing to our neighbors, local businesses, and community organizations. Shortly before our launch, I learned the elementary school where we would hold our services hadn’t purchased library books for two years because of budget cuts. We thought, What better way for us to be “for” this neighborhood than to try to meet a real need on day one of our church’s existence?
So we asked the librarian to provide us with a wish list of books. She came up with 160. A neighborhood bookstore offered to sell the books at cost, and on our opening Sunday, all 160 books were purchased for the school by people who attended that first service.
But the ultimate reason for starting churches in the city is to bring about life change. The stories of life change make all the challenges and uncertainties of urban ministry worthwhile. It’s about the young business executive who hadn’t been to church in 10 years becoming our first baptism. It’s about the engaged couple who sought out the church because they knew if their marriage was to succeed, their lives needed to be different. Recently I asked them what was different since they came to Community. Their response? “Everything.”
And it is about Mitchell, one of the first people we met when we moved to the city. Mitchell, along with his girlfriend, joined the first small group we held in the city, despite the fact he hadn’t been part of a church since he was a young boy and felt very much out of his element. Eighteen months later he was in the baptistery declaring his new faith in Jesus. That night he shared his story:
My journey to get to this point has been long, frustrating, and empty. I always questioned everything about Christianity scientifically, and of course, only came back with doubt and more doubt. I thought I was living a good life and the bad things that kept happening were just life, so I thought I did not need something else.
When my girlfriend decided to be involved with this start-up church, I decided to let go and let someone else lead the way. It led me to a small group. It took me about three weeks to open up and not feel totally out of place, but realistically, it could not have worked out any better for a person in my situation. Being in a group of people discussing life and what God and Jesus have done for them first, instead of listening to one person standing on a stage preach to me, was the perfect tempo to build my way to what I believe now.
Being a hands-on part of this church has brought me so much satisfaction. Knowing I am helping to build something for a greater cause is more rewarding than I could have ever conceived. Do I still have questions? You bet. Can I scientifically explain how God helped Moses part the Red Sea? No. Is 10 percent a lot? Yes!
But I now feel all of that is just a small part of what is really going on here. Life is not easy and life throws you curve balls, but God is now a presence in my life and will continue to grow as I learn how to open up and let him work. The basic instructions of Christianity for how to live life and the rewards for believing are something I will cherish for the rest of my days.
The second Chicago Impact campus, led by Rich and Dori Gorman, launched in the Edgewater neighborhood in the fall of 2012. And this October, Eric Metcalf will be launching the third campus in Lincoln Park/Old Town. Our hope and prayer is that God will continue to give us opportunities to be a blessing in these neighborhoods and that people will continue to find their way back to him, one life at a time.
Tammy Melchien serves as site pastor of the Chicago Impact Lincoln Square site of Community Christian Church.