By Jennifer Johnson
Although Eastside Christian Church’s building in Anaheim, CA, is large—it’s a former Boeing Aerospace facility—the church knows that one location isn’t big enough to accomplish its vision of reaching tens of thousands of people. So when Eastside purchased and renovated the building a few years ago, it designed the site as a “hub” that could support additional campuses.
“Four thousand churches close each year,” says Jill Gille, executive project director at Eastside. “I grew up in a small church, and I know the challenge to get past that critical mass to keep growing. There is quite a bit of pressure on one person to preach well and lead the church week after week. I began wondering what we could do as a church to create an environment that would bring back the guests, again and again. I believe the multisite approach is a powerful way to grow churches instead of seeing them struggle and eventually close.”
But most Eastsiders probably assumed the first additional campus would be in Southern California—not Park Rapids, MN.
Eastside senior pastor Gene Appel vacations near Park Rapids each summer and has visited Lakeside Christian Church for years.
“Dick Jorgensen, the minister, was ready to retire,” Gille says. “The church is only seven years old and has a brand-new building, and Gene and Dick began talking about what might be next. It sounded like a long shot initially, but the doors kept opening and never shut.”
Jorgensen retired in August, and the church became “Eastside Christian Church—Park Rapids” in September. Justin Domogalla serves as campus pastor.
“We send a video of the message every Saturday night for their Sunday morning service,” Gille says. “They do live worship, with the same songs and in the same style as we’re doing in Anaheim. We’re also aligned in terms of activities and outreach. Most importantly, each campus focuses on one vision: to transform our homes, community, and world by pursuing God, building community, and unleashing compassion, one neighborhood at a time.”
The merger has required a lot of communication and a lot of change for the former Lakeside congregation, but Gille says both churches have been open to the challenge. “The desire to reach unchurched and dechurched people outweighs the changes,” she says. “I’m sure everyone at Eastside thought our first multisite would be local, so there’s been some vision casting for helping other churches. We feel called to rebooting and rebuilding existing churches that are stuck and are ready for a new chapter. Park Rapids was seeking a new chapter, and now we are anticipating God’s plan for Eastside Park Rapids and beyond.”