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At a recent Sunday church service at Lifepointe Church, Tim Ferrill quoted Chicago-area mega-church leader Bill Hybels, who writes about leaving the comfort of a Christian circle, entering the "zone of the unknown" and creating a new circle. | Photo gallery

The local link to Hybels' book, titled "Just Walk Across the Room," was obvious to all attending.

Three months ago today, Lifepointe left the comforts of its mother church, Heartland Community Church in north Normal, and formed a new circle across town, at Pepper Ridge Elementary School in southwest Bloomington.

Still, there remains plenty of walking to do for this church plant.

At its peak, nearly 100 people have attended the 11 a.m. Sunday service at Lifepointe. An attendance lull, like the 20 in attendance on Father's Day, shows how fragile attendance can be at a planted church, especially when meeting in a school, during the summer slump, on a traditional occasion and not yet being established as an institution.

Ferrill later remarked on how his church responds to days like that. You have church all the same, he said.

"The show goes on. You act like the place is packed. You give it your best. We honor God. You just keep on going."

The band played a mixture of modern acoustic and electric Christian music; people stood and sang; a video poked fun at Ferrill and Roger Pryor, his counterpart at Heartland Community Church.

"Go Fish" is the sermon series, ending today, at both churches. Ferrill gave a passionate talk about Simon Peter and Andrew being called by Jesus to leave their circle, follow him and become fishers of people.

Fish nets, plantings and logs - plus a little imagination on the part of the viewer - transported this stage to the edge of a sea. A team had begun the stage setup at 8 a.m. and a series of preparations followed right up to the 11 a.m. service, when just a trickle of people arrived.

Yet Ferrill expressed no disappointment in the numbers. To the contrary, he later shared a vision of a packed Lifepointe Church making an impact on lives. He attributed the plan to the Holy Spirit rather than himself, and he predicted with confidence that:

• There will be a church building called Lifepointe built along Interstate 55 in southwest Bloomington and it will be known for a giant cross, lighted at night, that will give every motorist a passing reminder of Jesus. It will be known as a beacon for adults, ages 20 to 40, with dynamic modern music and relevant messages. It will be populated by seekers, unchurched, believers who are bored with traditional churches, newcomers to town and people on the growing southwest side who want to worship close to home.

• Growth will soon require a second service. This will be on Saturday night, offering young people an ideal opportunity for post-service fellowship.

• Lifepointe will have satellite churches in cities like Decatur-Forsyth, Danville and Pekin. Each service will present all aspects except the message. The pastor's message will be delivered to all sites and to the world via Internet. After service, the pastor will enter an online discussion room on the Internet.

• Numbers could swell to 4,000 in a few years, with services divided into two Saturday night services and two on Sunday. The auditorium of the church will be substantially smaller than Eastview Christian Church's as a way to make young adults feel more connected. Still, the attendance Ferrill imagines is bigger than the current draw at Eastview.

Ferrill uses alliteration, so trendy in today's relevance-seeking Christian circles, to summarize the immediate focus. "We are praying for the lost, praying for leaders, praying for land and we are praying for loot." He laughs at the final "L," but the plain fact is the plan will require millions in donations from sources yet unknown.

"I know this will work," he added. "God has shown his favor. God has shown his hand."

Lifepointe held its "grand opening" after a year of planning under Heartland's shelter. The southwest area was known from the outset, as there are no churches within a three-mile radius of the school, to the churches' knowledge.

The preparation time allowed the church to develop a core team of 20.

One Heartland member now with Lifepointe is 26-year-old Amber Walters. She said she was among those who felt a spiritual tug as early plans were made.

"I started out being interested, and I ended up on the praise team," said Walters, a singer on the team who also heads the evangelism effort.

She continued, "I like being a pioneer, creating something that would reach people."

Lifepointe sent postcard invitations to every home in the three-mile radius for the opening week.

Among recipients who came and stayed are Matt and Carlene Stambaugh. They had been church shopping since August, when they moved from Arrowsmith to southwest Bloomington and their church, Ellsworth United Methodist, seemed impractically far away.

With drums and a mix of electrical and acoustic guitars, the worship style is a departure from Methodism, but Matt Stambaugh said "we've been energized by that."

Their preacher, too, comes from a United Methodist background.

For Ferrill, like Hybels, taking that evangelism walk across the room is like approaching the guy standing alone with his beverage in the corner of the party. You leave your own Christian group and start a relationship. In that zone of the unknown, say the preachers, God does a mighty work within the people taking the walk.

But Ferrill's entry into the community resembles more a gigantic leap than a spiritual stroll across carpet at a soirée.

Born in 1971, he grew up in Peoria, then lived in Clinton, then Danville, a son of a nurse and a Methodist preacher. His brother became a counselor. Ferrill earned a doctorate of ministry and became a Methodist preacher.

He had friends in Bloomington-Normal and he had what he describes as God's call to plant a church here. He left Methodist ministry and lived off faith, his savings and some speaking fees for a few months in 2006 while he informally studied 40 local churches and the demographics of Bloomington-Normal.

His investigation brought him to a lunch with Pryor, Heartland's senior pastor. As Ferrill described it, it was one of those goose-bumped, can't-be-a-coincidence moments.

"I said, 'I feel God calling me and some of my closest friends to start a church on the southwest side.' He said, 'That's our vision too.'"

It wasn't Heartland's own vision, per se. The church had wanted to help plant a church there - one that quickly would become its own entity. That's where Lifepointe heads in its first year. Two other seeker-conscious churches, Eastview and Vale Community Church, have lent people, prayer and some material aid.

Now, Lifepointe looks to become more firmly grounded in people and mission. On one point there is no compromise: Ferrill feels it imperative to primarily target his own generation - that "no-named Generation X," as he calls it, in which eight in 10 adults don't attend church regularly.

Ferrill said those of his generation, while saying they believe in God, don't feel compelled to attend church, worship God or serve consistently. They think church is boring and irrelevant, he said, but he thinks they will come under the right circumstances.

Sitting in a pew just to be seen isn't a reason for them.

"My generation, we're not into playing church," Ferrill said. "They'll either go and it will add value to life or they aren't going to go."


Born of Grace

Lifepointe Church is rooted in a tradition of church planting. Here's some of the history.

• Grace Baptist Church, an independent, began in Warren Slaughter's basement in west Normal in 1961. It now is called Grace Church and is located at Grove and West Hovey Avenue. www.gracenormal.org/

• Heartland Community Church, Normal, was born out of Grace in 1995 but was independent almost from its outset. It met in various places until moving in 2000 into its current location at Linden Street near Interstate 55. www.heartcc.org/

• Jacob's Well Community Church was planned at Heartland in 2005. An initial thought was to plant a church in southwest Bloomington, but Heartland and Jacob's Well shifted plans when leaders felt Dave Berry was the right person to lead as pastor. A former Young Life ministry leader, Berry felt a call to reach youth and college students, and he needed to be in the core of town to do that. "The Jake" met briefly in a hotel conference room, then rented from the Free Methodist Church on Jersey Avenue near Fell Avenue in Normal. In late June, Jacob's Well closed on purchase of the church building and adjoining acres.

• Lifepointe Church also was launched through Heartland and meets at Pepper Ridge Elementary School. Its emphasis is young adults - singles, couples, young families, college students. www.lifepointechurch.tv.

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