By Jennifer Johnson
Many people know the Ferguson brothers, Dave and Jon, as cofounders of Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, and as strategic visionaries behind the multisite movement. But many people don’t know the story of the church’s first multisite, or the innovative thinking behind it.
A few real estate development professionals were members of a small group with the Fergusons; the group began dreaming about creating neighborhoods designed to intentionally drive strong community life, centered around a church. Eventually the real estate company and CCC partnered to create the Institute For Community and launched a master-planned area in nearby Romeoville.
Although Fair Housing laws prohibited the creation of a “Christian” housing development, the team could offer optional spiritual programming as part of a “Friendship Center” centrally located on the property.
“We focus on five areas of community life: Family, Recreation, Education and career, Spirituality, and Health and wellness,” says Michael Vickery, executive director at IFC. “The acronym is ‘FRESH,’ because we’re inviting them into a fresh way of thinking about life. We’re strategic in everything from the physical layout to the programming. The entire area is walkable, and the residents’ mailboxes are centrally located so neighbors pick up their mail together. We offer tutoring and after-school programs, day camps, VBS, tae kwon do, swimming lessons, and more.” Many of the programs employ people from in and around the neighborhood.
Over time, the relationships that develop can lead to spiritual conversations and a new openness to faith among the residents.
“Everyone is invited to participate in the spiritual aspect of the community, and for the people who are already believers, involvement in the neighborhood can be a new way to live missionally,” says Vickery.
The team also uses principles of asset-based community development, the process of identifying and maximizing resources already within a community.
“We don’t try to create everything ourselves,” Vickery says. “For instance, we’re currently sharing our building with a 50-member preschool because a local park district didn’t have a place for it. We provide the facility, they provide a great structured program, and we ask them to hire qualified people from within the community to staff it.”
Community Christian and the IFC have launched additional communities in nearby cities and work with other churches around the country exploring similar models.