The Rev. Jeff Wheeland credits a combination of contemporary music, Christ-centered sermons, and regular altar calls for the growth of Fallen Timbers Community Church in Waterville.
"I feel we have a unique niche in the Toledo area," the pastor said of the church that will dedicate its new $1.7 million facility on Noward Road this weekend.
A member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, Fallen Timbers was founded in 1999 by six people and today averages nearly 300 at its Sunday services.
Until undertaking the building project, Fallen Timbers' services were held in the Waterville Primary School, requiring church staff and members to set up and take down equipment every week.
Its new 15,000-square-foot home features a worship center that will seat up to 500 people, with a "kid friendly" design for the children's ministry area, Mr. Wheeland said.
The building itself cost about $1.3 million, he added, and was built on 35 acres that the church owns on Noward and State Rt. 64, site of the popular corn maze it hosts every autumn.
Mr. Wheeland is a graduate of Wheaton College, where he served as president of the senior class, and Dallas Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 2002 with a master's degree in theology.
The pastor was called to active duty in the U.S. Army in 2004 and served, with the rank of captain, as a chaplain in Iraq, first in Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein, and then Ramadi, where much of the insurgency was based.
It was during Mr. Wheeland's service in Iraq that Fallen Timbers began planning a building program.
"While I was away the church was really honored to have Dr. Paul Alford as interim pastor," Mr. Wheeland said.
Mr. Alford is a former president of Toccoa Falls College who previously served as a pastor in Georgia and Florida and as a missionary in Ecuador.
"Dr. Alford felt the right thing for the church to do was to build," Mr. Wheeland said. "So when I got back in 2006 we started a capital campaign."
The new facility, which took about eight months to build, is only the first phase of a long-term plan that includes a 1,000-seat worship center.
Mr. Wheeland likes to plan ahead in many ways, including his sermon topics.
"I am preaching a series called 'Route 66' that is a 10-year journey through the entire Bible," he said, the series' title referring to the 66 books of the Bible.
"We are in the Book of Samuel right now. We started a few years ago and will finish Revelation in 2015 or so," Mr. Wheeland said.
He was inspired to undertake the sermon series by the Rev. W.A. Criswell, who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas from 1944 to 1995.
"It took him 18 years to go through the Bible. People told him not to do it, but the church really grew during that time," Mr. Wheeland said. "I think the church needs the same thing today."
Mr. Wheeland said he departs from the series for holidays such as Easter and Christmas, but gets right back on Route 66 as soon as the special events are over.
"It makes it easy for me because I never have to wonder what I'll be doing next year," Mr. Wheeland said. "I already know that I'll be in 1st and 2nd Kings."
Starting tonight, Fallen Timbers will add a 6 p.m. Saturday service each week in addition to its 11 a.m. Sunday service.
Fallen Timbers Community Church will hold its Grand Opening celebration at 6 p.m. today and 11 a.m. tomorrow at its new location, 7215 Noward Rd., Waterville. Information: 419-878-8372 or online at www.ftcchurch.com.
- David Yonke