Idaho Church Uses a Personal Touch to Welcome Guests
“We built our building with outreach in mind,” says Mike Whitford, campus pastor at Eagle Christian Church, noting the facility’s baseball diamonds and open gymnasium. “Many people have attended services at our church after using a part of our building that welcomes the community. They get familiar with our facility, and then if they start looking for a church, it’s only natural to come here first.”
Welcoming guests is in the church’s DNA. Eagle Christian, located in Eagle, Idaho, has a team that delivers a gift to each person who visits the previous Sunday.
“Our senior pastor’s wife used to bake chocolate-chip cookies and our team would deliver them while they were still warm,” Whitford says. “But as the church grew, we changed the gift to a coffee mug filled with candy. Following up with our visitors in such a personal way is important to us.”
The church is sensitive to people who are looking for a place to belong. “We don’t speak Christianese,” Whitford says. “We want people to feel comfortable even if it’s their first church experience. We welcome everyone.”
Extending a personal welcome starts with the senior pastor. Steve Crane stands at the main doors to greet every person who enters the church. “He starts about 30 minutes before the service begins,” says Whitford. “He shakes hands with every person. He wants people to know that we’re happy they’re with us. We strive to be a friendly, welcoming church.”
One unique aspect of the church’s local area is the large Mormon population. “We hold Saturday night services at our church, so many Mormon people who are looking at other options attend our church on Saturday and then attend their LDS church on Sunday morning,” Whitford explains. “Pastor Steve offers a seminar that compares Mormonism and Christianity without judgment. The seminar compares the Scriptures and allows people to draw their own conclusions. It piques people’s interest.”
Crane planted Eagle Christian Church with seven people in 1995 in his home. While Eagle Christian is a rapidly growing church, the staff is careful not to get caught up in the numbers.
“I’ve learned that my identity needs to be in Christ and not in my ministry,” says Whitford. “I want to make sure I’m concerned with what Jesus thinks of me, not what others think.”
Twelve years ago, Adrian Thomas was invited to attend a service at Eagle Christian at a time when he was in a bad place in his life. “I’d just lost my dad and my brother to alcoholism, an addiction I’d struggled with for 30 years myself,” he says.
Thomas couldn’t believe how friendly the people at Eagle Christian were. “I never felt loved and accepted anywhere the way I did there,” he says. “The people weren’t concerned with my past—they were more interested in helping me head in a better direction.”
It wasn’t long before a few people figured out that Thomas was struggling. “One of the pastors helped me get into a Christian rehabilitation center,” he says. “I got sober because I finally surrendered the problem to God.”
Today, Thomas is on full-time staff at the church as the maintenance man, plus he works with the men’s ministry and runs a support group for people who are struggling with addictions.
“The people at Eagle Christian never judged me,” Thomas says. “They loved me where I was and helped me get better. Now I’m able to give back and help others with their struggles. It’s such a blessing.”
EAGLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Lead Pastor: Steven Crane
Affiliation: Independent Christian Churches
Growth in 2018: +428 (14%)