40 years ago my parents moved from rural Missouri to Chicago to start the Park Forest Christian Church. I was only four at the time and can still remember setting up folding chairs in the Blackhawk Elementary School fgymnasium for the handful of people that would come. They didn’t start with a marketing blitz or a team approach – it was just Dad and Mom and a growing core of people who wanted to follow Jesus and be a loving church. Over time that church grew and at it’s peak had more than 1000 people and many years would baptize more than 100 people. It was great church and a great church to grow up in; but I was reminded how special those people were last night.
About 25 of those people who were a part of the core of the Park Forest Christian Church (that eventually became the Park Forest South Christian Church and then the Deer Creek Christian Church) all came into town for a reunion at my parents home last night. They were nice enough to invite and include me. Most all of them are retired and now well into their 60’s and some into their 70’s. I remember that group as the elders and deacons, the Sunday school teachers and the parents of my friends.
What I didn’t remember was the extraordinary community that they experienced. After we finished dinner my Dad had everyone gather in a circle on the porch and each person/couple went around the circle and gave an update on their life and family. They talked about the predictable: kids, grandkids and even grand-dogs. But they also talked about how this group of people had literally built the first phase of a church building with their own hands and volunteer hours. This group reminisced how over the years they had been there for each other through some difficult times. Some of them had lost a spouse and it was this group that supported and loved them through it. Other had to go through the tragedy of the death of a child – but not alone because this group was there to cry with them and mourn with them. It is no cliche to say that this group has been through hard times and good times. They laughed about the first time that Jim had come to a small group with his arms folded, skeptical and not interested and now he is a Pastor in his own church in Tennessee. And as the last person in the circle finished they told about current need that they had in their life. And as this group has done for the last forty years whenever they were gathered – they grabbed the hand of the person next to them and together went to God in prayer.
At the Exponential Conference Bill Hybels gave 5 pieces of advice for church planters and the last piece of advice was this: “Ask God to let you finish with the same people you started.” I got to see what that looked like last night.