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If Not Us, Then Who?
That question marked the moment when God’s perfect plan revealed itself with clarity: Wheaton Bible Church was being called to place our first new multi-site campus in Streamwood.
But as with so many God-led journeys, that moment was preceded by many months of seeking and praying, punctuated along the way by hundreds of discussions, phone calls, visits, questions, and even some unexpected disappointments and closed doors.
The vision and the assignment were both clear. In 2015, the Elders of Wheaton Bible Church confirmed a growing conviction that God was calling us to reach out to more individuals and families who don’t currently attend any church where they can hear the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Because most people are far more likely to visit a church close to their home, it was decided to begin looking for a second location where we could effectively replicate the “DNA” of our church—centered on our mission to see more and more people move into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and as a result, be transformed.
This new campus was to be our first venture into the creation of multiple campuses that would allow us to extend the
reach of our ministry to more people—focused on those who don’t attend any church and who live far enough from our North Avenue campus that they would be unlikely to come to us here.
But where would we go first?
After the leadership of Wheaton Bible Church identified a young pastor who was eager to lead the new venture, the next question was where? Which direction from our North Avenue campus? What communities represented the greatest opportunity to reach those who weren’t attending any church? Where would we find the right space for our new congregation to flourish and grow?
Because we are committed to renting rather than building, finding the proper space was more of a challenge than expected. First, the building had to be available on Sunday mornings—year round. The new congregation needed a meeting space where a large group—three hundred-plus people—could gather, with enough parking spaces to accommodate attenders and guests. Next on the list? Space for a safe and effective children’s ministry, with rooms for infants and toddlers, for active preschoolers and elementary students. And if there could be a place for conversations before and after the worship service—where individuals and families could get acquainted and enjoy a cup of coffee—that would be the icing on the cake!
So a team—newly identified Campus Pastor Wil Franco, WBC Director of Operations Mark DeMoulin, and Outreach Pastor Lon Allison—set out to find a site for our new campus. It needed to be far enough away to be accessible to a new population, but near enough to our North Avenue campus that current staff could provide support services and coaching as the new congregation was established. And it needed to be located where a significant number of current WBC members could commit to attending as a part of the core launch team.
As the search team set about its task, each team member brought a unique set of gifts and abilities.
Lon, who had participated in starting a number of new congregations over his years of ministry, knew that schools and theaters were the most likely options. Schools often offer the right kind of spaces, and typically aren’t in use on Sundays. And theaters, with their spacious seating areas, have provided an effective solution for other new churches, even though meeting rooms for a nursery and children’s ministry are sometimes limited.
Mark, a former school administrator, brought an insider’s insight into how to best approach educators about the potential use of their facilities. He understood what their concerns might be and knew what questions to ask as he made contact with various schools throughout the western suburbs.
Wil—knowing that this process would shape the makeup of the congregation he would lead—brought an eagerness and enthusiasm to the search, and a pastor’s heart for the communities the team explored as they investigated various possible locations.
As they set their parameters, the search team was able to draw on research that shows people will typically drive ten minutes to attend a church, but for most, a twenty- or thirty-minute drive is a barrier, no matter how attractive an invitation might be.
“We started with the understanding that anyone who is currently unchurched and is living twenty or more minutes away from our North Avenue campus is just not going to make the drive,” Wil said. “Those are the people this new effort is designed to reach.”
So they sat down with a map and created a list of communities that were somewhere between a fifteen- and thirty-minute drive from the church.
“We were sort of like the spies Israel sent into the Promised Land,” Wil says with a smile. “We were just scouting the land and seeing where God might be leading us. And Mark was a great partner with us in that process.”
In addition to the distance parameters, another consideration in the search was to identify an area that most needed a church presence.
“It was interesting, early on,” Wil says, “how God worked in Lon’s and Rob’s (Senior Pastor Rob Bugh) hearts to think in terms of diversity—and then, because of the way I’m wired, I just reinforced it,” Wil says. “All along the way we had this feeling that God is always going to send our church to places that are diverse, under-resourced, and under-churched.”
As the search for a site progressed, the team would find a facility that initially appeared suitable, but then doors would close, and they would need to move to the next site.
“In areas where there were more churches,” Wil says, “doors closed, and areas where there were fewer churches drew us in.”
Over many months of investigation, the team visited potential sites in Glendale Heights, Medina, Roselle, Warrenville, Villa Park, Lombard, Bloomingdale, and more—including junior highs, high schools, colleges, and theaters—looking for the place that would meet the needs of this new congregation.
Frequently the door closed because of a lack of classroom space or insufficient parking. Sometimes schools said no or didn’t return calls. Others had a crowded schedule that wouldn’t allow for regular Sunday gatherings, or they placed other conditions on the use of their facilities that would put an undue burden on a new church.
Mark was often involved with making calls, calling back, and persevering until he was sure he’d reached the right person and gotten the information needed.
“I so appreciate his faithfulness,” Wil says of Mark’s teamwork. “He wanted this as much as I did, wanting us to succeed in finding not just the best town but also the best location in that town.
“There were times when I got discouraged,” Wil admits, “because up to the point of looking for that place, God had overwhelmingly confirmed everything along the way. First, in bringing me to a church that would look for this kind of outreach opportunity, then allowing me to be a part of this—putting a desire in my heart to lead a new campus, and finally, bringing me together with Lon and Rob.
“But about the time we starting looking at Streamwood, I had hit one of those low times.”
It was Mark who first suggested Streamwood High School as a possibility. Wil was less than enthusiastic. He’d grown up not far from there and had carried over a negative attitude toward the town.
“But there had pretty much been a closed door everywhere else we had looked,” Mark says, “so we checked it out—even though technically Streamwood was a little outside the DuPage County border, which had been one of our initial boundaries.”
As Mark and Wil met the facilities manager at the high school, he walked them through the halls and into the cafeteria. “As I looked around, I started seeing the students—this incredible diversity of students,” Wil said, “and my heart began to change.
“Then he showed us another classroom, and I said, ‘This looks like a nursery.’ And we saw four teenage moms, there with their kids. And I started thinking about the circumstances of those girl’s lives and what that said—that this school had daycare for the children of high school students.
“My heart just started melting,” Wil said, “and I could feel God giving me a pastoral passion for these people.”
From there, they were led into the school’s auditorium, and as they stood on the platform, their tour guide began to talk about the school. It soon became clear that this man was a Christ follower.
“I completely understand if you decide this isn’t the right place for you,” he said, getting emotional as he spoke. “But even if you could send someone to do some youth ministry here, this place is so needy.
“There are students here who need mentors. They need believers in their lives, and they need people who are going to open their eyes to the Gospel.”
“As we listened,” Wil said, “his words felt like Paul’s Macedonian call in Acts 16. Paul and his companions were headed in one direction to preach the Gospel to the unchurched, but God had another plan for where they would go.”
When Mark and Wil got out to the car that day, they processed what they had seen and heard—something that had become a routine throughout the search.
“Mark, who knew how reluctant I’d been about Streamwood, said something I will never forget: ‘You know, if our church doesn’t go—if someone with your unique background, who you are and the experiences you’ve had—if someone like you and a church like ours doesn’t go to Streamwood, who will?’”
If Not Us, Then Who?
“For me, that day” Wil adds, “I went from seeing the word Streamwood in my mind with an X through it, to Streamwood with a question mark, to Streamwood with an exclamation point!”
Further research confirmed the diversity Mark and Wil had seen among the students at the school. Depending on which survey is consulted, the population of Streamwood and the surrounding communities is roughly 40 to 50 percent Caucasian, 30 to 35 percent Hispanic, and about 15 percent Indian.
“What we’ve learned is that, yes, it is a diverse area, but in that diversity there is also a lot of loneliness and a lot of fear,” Wil said. “The immigrants are worried about being deported. The older white generation is fearful of the immigrants. The blue-collar workers are afraid they will lose their jobs. It’s not a bad town or a broken town, but it is a town that has issues, like every other town.”
For Mark and Wil—and Lon Allison who joined them on their next trip to Streamwood—God’s leading was clear. Streamwood was the town, and Streamwood High School was the place—although some potential issues were raised, including scheduling conflicts for their busy auditorium, and the absence of an open area to greet attenders and guests.
“In spite of the problems with the high school, we were confident Streamwood was the place, so we began moving toward the school as our location,” Wil says. “And then we heard from a man named Ken del Villar,” he adds. “Ken, who is active at Wheaton Bible Church, also serves in leadership with the Awana youth ministry—which, as we now know, has its international headquarters in Streamwood.”
When Ken learned that the church was seriously looking at a site in Streamwood for its new campus, he was confused. He had understood that only locations in DuPage County were being considered.
Ken’s next step was to contact Lon Allison. “If you are considering a site in Cook County—just a mile away from Awana—would you want to come and check out our facility?” he asked.
Lon and Wil scheduled a visit, thinking that maybe Ken was going to be able to offer them a Streamwood office space for Wil and his team—and maybe some storage space for the chairs, sound system, signage, children’s ministry resources, and other equipment that would need to be stored during
the week and set up each Sunday at the new church site.
What no one at Wheaton Bible Church then knew was that just a couple of months earlier, Awana’s leadership team had made the decision to open their facility for use by another organization. God owned it, they agreed, and they wanted to see it used to its fullest capacity. And since the building sat empty on Sunday mornings, they were particularly interested in exploring a possible partnership with a like-minded new church that would share their Gospel-centered focus.
A God-Sized Surprise
Having never been on the Awana campus, the two men were stunned by what they found when they arrived, starting with a sizable parking lot—just the kind of parking lot the new campus would require. Then there was a welcoming entrance and a light-filled atrium, where they met Ken, who showed them around a lovely cafeteria area, and then led them into what Lon calls, “an amazing meeting space.”
“As Ken continued walking us around, showing us just a ton of classrooms where our kids’ ministry could meet,” Wil says, “the more Lon and I were convinced that we were seeing confirmation that Streamwood was our target and—if details could be worked out—that the Awana campus was the place our new WBC congregation would call home.
“It was not just what we needed; it was far more than we could have hoped for.”
The Core Team
Even before an exact location was chosen, the vision to reach out to people who live in and around the communities of Streamwood, Bartlett, and Hanover Park was being raised up to the congregation of Wheaton Bible Church, and a team of ministry partners was already being recruited. Meetings were held to cast the vision, and individuals and families began to step forward—not knowing initially where they’d be meeting on Sunday mornings but expressing a willingness to go and be part of this new congregation as it was launched.
First a few dozen, then more were added, then it was over fifty, then eighty. As the weeks went by, more inquiries came in, growing the hope that by its fall launch, a contingent of as many as two hundred men, women, and family members would begin worshiping and serving in the new church.
And by then, the new congregation not only had a location but also had a name—Tri-Village Church, reflecting the three communities the new site will seek to reach—and a launch date: September 11, 2016!
Already we have begun to establish a presence in the area, beginning with a group of nearly thirty individuals and families that met in Streamwood on the day of the WBC CareFest back in May, working at an elementary school and receiving an enthusiastic welcome to Streamwood from that school’s appreciative principal.
In another step toward the new campus, Wil and his wife, Lylli, were able to sell their Carol Stream home in record time—with multiple offers received on the very first day it was listed! Today they are bona fide residents of Streamwood.
In July, Tri-Village Church was well represented at the Streamwood Summer Celebration, one of the largest community events of the year, as an army of core team members marched in a massive parade and greeted families in a crowd estimated to be near ten thousand.
Only God knows what’s ahead for this new WBC campus—and for what we pray will be the first of many new ministry outposts in surrounding communities. But we are confident that He has placed us in this exact location and shown us incredible favor in the way He has done so. We believe this is just the first chapter of the amazing story He is writing for Tri-Village Church, as we seek to be His witnesses, sending and going to His glory.