Trial and Error: Christ Church

Rev. Shane L. Bishop, lead pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois, maintains that his staff and congregation members are laser-focused when it comes to their mission to bring people to Christ.

“When we connect people with Jesus, we are able to overcome other things for which we may disagree,” says Bishop. “The predominance of our mission gives people something everyone can lean into even though they may think differently about lots of other things.”

So, how do they make those connections?

“With theology, we hold very firm, but with our methodology we are very creative,” says Bishop, noting that they’ve been willing to make shifts in worship style, worship times or how they run small groups.

“If something isn’t reaching people, we’re not afraid to try something else,” says Bishop. “We realize that not everything we try is going to work out.”

For example, last year they offered a service in Spanish—an idea that was initially met with much optimism and enthusiasm. As it turns out, however, they were never able to reach a critical mass and after a season of doing the service, they discontinued it. The same thing occurred when they tried offering a Saturday evening traditional service—the numbers just weren’t there.

“When those things happen, we stop putting resources into them so that we can put those resources elsewhere,” he says.

Something they introduced three years ago that has made a tremendous impact on growth, however, is a Wednesday night service, which includes not only worship but also a coffee shop and children’s programing.

“Wednesday night worship has changed the whole pace of this church. It’s been an unqualified success,” says Bishop. He attributes the popularity of the service to multiple factors, including the fact quite a few members work in retail or the medical field, which requires them to work on weekends. Then there are sporting events.

“We were getting destroyed on Sunday mornings by kids’ sports,” says Bishop. “The Midwest has so many kids on traveling sports, and many of our families were gone on weekends.”

In addition to Wednesday nights, the church began offering a Sunday night service that’s the same format as Sunday morning, reaching families that need that option.

Bishop also notes that families frequently take weekend getaways to the Ozarks and don’t get back until late Sunday afternoon. Folks appreciate being able to go out of town and still attend a weekend worship service.

In Bishop’s 21 years as pastor at Christ Church, he has seen consistent growth due in great deal to the church’s ability to flow with the times.

“The world has changed so much that we have to rethink a lot of things,” says Bishop. For instance, in the past year, they began doing a service called “I’m Stuck,” which focuses on people with addictions. They’ve also explored online church services and have participated in Facebook Live feeds.

“We have to consider how to reach people who could never drive here,” says Bishop. Though Christ Church has three campuses, the main campus has only one way in and out of the facility, which poses an egress challenge. Therefore, they offer multiple services in order to accommodate everyone. They now hold 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday services (running children’s ministry concurrently with the services).

Lisa Safarian, a member of Christ Church since 2000, says that the congregation runs the gamut on age, race, background and socio-economic status.

“We love to worship, we take care of each other, we love to do service and most importantly we all know that the reason we are here is to connect people to Jesus Christ,” says Safarian. “My husband and I have attended Christ Church for 19 years. During that time, we have seen amazing miracles, souls that have been saved and incredible outreach in our church, community and in other countries.”

Fairview Heights, Illinois
Lead Pastor: Shane Bishop
Founded: 1953
Affiliation: United Methodist
Locations: 4
Attendance: 2,665
Growth in 2017: +374 (16%)
Fastest-Growing: 54

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.