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Published: Saturday, 10/15/2005

Blue lights glow with spirituality

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It was a different kind of "Blue Light Special." Kmart's signature sales gimmick had nothing to do with this illuminating event.

At a 10th anniversary celebration of CedarCreek Church last weekend, the Rev. Lee Powell asked those whom the church has led to become "fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ" to pick up blue-tinted penlights from the banquet tables and turn them on.

Suddenly, many hundreds of soft blue lights began glowing among the crowd of 1,500 who had gathered in the SeaGate Convention Centre.

Powell Powell
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It was a rare opportunity for mere mortals to get a glimpse into the spiritual world.

"My heart skipped a beat," Pastor Powell said afterward. "That's what it's all about for us. It makes all the work and all the years of laboring and all the praying and struggling - it just makes it all worth it."

The Rev. Bill Hybels, the keynote speaker and founder of the "seeker-sensitive" church model on which CedarCreek is based, had a catch in his voice and a tear in his eye when he stepped up to the microphone.

"I can't imagine how heaven felt," Mr. Hybels said of the blue lights, bringing to mind the Bible verse in Luke 15:7 that says, "There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent."

Mr. Hybels, whose 20,000-member Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, is a globe-trotting pastor who keeps a close watch on the way churches are impacting lives and cultures.

Hybels Hybels
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"What you're living right now is what Christian leaders all around the world - most of them, anyway - only dream about," he told the CedarCreek crowd. "They pray that they would see it in some fractional form, and most die without ever seeing it. And in 10 years, you've seen more - more redemption, more reconciliation, more compassion, more joy, more stories of God touching lives - than most churches have seen in their entire existence."

Mr. Hybels paused, his voice dripping with emotion. This is a man who has committed his life to bringing the Gospel to "unchurched" people - those who don't attend and have no interest in going to church because the church has let them down or turned them off at some point in their lives.

CedarCreek has taken hold of Mr. Hybel's vision and made it theirs, too.

"My greatest fear," he told the crowd, "is for you to think this is normal. This is so not normal."

Ten years' worth of statistics bear him out.

CedarCreek began with a core group of 20 people who started the planning process in 1994, and on Oct. 8, 1995, when the church held its first service, 195 people attended.

In the fall of 1997, attendance was 300. Then the numbers really began to climb: 1,100 in 1999; 2,400 in 2001; 3,000 in 2002; 5,000 last year, and about 6,000 this year - with 10,000 at its seven Easter services. Not surprisingly, CedarCreek was named one of the nation's fastest-growing churches.

It's not just a matter of numbers, it's the lives they represent - those "blue light specials."

And the growth continues. In March, CedarCreek will open a satellite church in Monclova Township with worship pastor Kyle Gray serving as lead pastor.

"You may think that a church that cares for lost people is normal," Mr. Hybels said. "The average church on the corner of Elm and Vine doesn't give a flying rip about people far from God. They're an annoyance. They use bad words. They sleep in the wrong bed. They drink too much booze. They're an annoyance."

And yet the Bible shows time and again how Jesus cared for outcasts and sinners.

CedarCreek's style, from the casual dress and coffee cup holders to the video screens and screaming rock music, may not be for everyone. But everyone can learn from its commitment to reaching people and changing lives.

David Yonke is The Blade's

religion editor. Contact him at

dyonke@theblade.com or

419-724-6154.



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