CHICAGO – The colorful city lights were visible through the window of a small meeting room inside Chicago’s historic Newberry Library. There, all eyes were on 24-year-old Mike Fowler as he professed to nine fellow believers what God laid on his heart.
“He’s all I have,” the student at Moody Bible Institute said. “My relationship with Christ is all I have. When it comes to the things of this world, nothing is for certain. I thought I could direct my future the way I planned it, but all that that produces is anger, frustration, and nothing turns out the way I want it to. I come from a broken life, a broken lifestyle and through it all God has showed me how much I need Christ. He is trying to give me so much more than I could ever think possible.”
Fowler has a criminal record and came to the Lord while serving time in jail. Another believer, Kendra Osepchuk, is a student at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute and has deep prayer needs for her parents who are piecing their life back together after a flood nearly destroyed their home. Ed Schlaeger, from nearby Skokie, Ill., was also there. He is a former Jewish rabbi who turned to Jesus after a dark period in his life. Schlaeger believes he was chosen by God.
Though eclectic, this small group of believers who make up the Chicago church plant, North Shore Crossing, are in harmony about what is important. First, they love Jesus; and second, they desire to see the people of Chicago embrace Christ as they have.
And none yearn for that more than North Shore Crossing’s pastor, Brian Evans. He and his wife, Beth, and two sons, Josiah and Matty, moved to their current location in Evanston, Ill., nine months ago, after praying the Lord’s will for five years. Prior to relocating, Evans served as senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia.
“God said it was time to take a leap of faith and do it,” Evans said. “So, I cashed out what little retirement money I had and we moved up here, even before we had jobs.”
The reason? God gave Evans a vision for the people of Chicago.
“While Beth and I were driving back from Chicago after an anniversary getaway, I sincerely believe the Lord gave me a vision of how to reach the city,” he said. “It was like a complete download in the blink of an eye.”
In this vision, Evans saw himself riding the “L” (Chicago’s local subway) and God’s direction was clear: Plant a church near each subway stop of each subway line in Chicago.
“The churches would be within walking distance of the subway stop,” he said. “Each subway line would be its own mini-network of sister churches who would share resources, leaders, and services; like perhaps a monthly meeting at a central location for baptisms and the Lord’s Supper.”
He said some churches would be ethnic; and others diverse. Some would be large and some would be small enough to meet in a home. But, Evans said, even the larger churches wouldn’t exceed 100 people.
“By keeping them intentionally small, visitors will always be noticed, meeting spaces can be kept small which keeps expenses down, and the church would be more family-centered and less program based,” he said.
He said the vision is a 7/11 approach to church planting.
“Instead of trying to plant a church that is like Walmart with ‘something for everybody,’ we want to see small, neighborhood-based churches that are really in tune with the locale in which they are,” Evans said. “Like a 7/11 instead of a Walmart: Small and convenient, but numerous!”
By following the flow of the people, Evans would like to see 500 new church plants in Chicago, each of them networked together by the mass transit system.
“Personally, this reminds me of how the early church flourished when it began to spread across the Roman empire,” Evans said. “A true church planting movement!”
Evans said that he and his family are in Chicago to stay.
“We are not your typical church planters who are giving it a two-year commitment and then possibly pull up tent stakes and head home,” he said. “No, this is now our home. By God’s grace we are here to stay. So, if it takes 20 years to slowly establish a congregation, then that must be His will for us … and we are OK with that.
“We are not in a hurry to see God move. We have learned to just enjoy every day He has given, to enjoy each other when we can, and to trust in His goodness for one more day. This kind of a lifestyle and calling He has for us makes it almost impossible to plan. I have no idea what God is going to do next month. We are just riding the waves that He has created. And when I am putting women’s clothing on a sales rack, I can remember that I am serving the Lord … not Macy’s.”
For more information or to contribute to the North Shore Crossing vision in Chicago visit www.northshorecrossing.org or e-mail Pastor Brian at NorthShoreCrossing@gmail.com.
KAYLA RINKER/contributing writer