Happy Times in Sugar Grove

June 22, 2014

A lot can happen in six years.

That’s what I discovered when I preached at Village Bible Church in Sugar Grove, IL, a suburb on the far-western edge of the Chicago metropolitan area. It’s so far west that if you keep going, you hit farm country.

When I preached at VBC in 2008, they had about 350 people attending a single service. Today they have seven services scattered across four different locations, drawing 1500 people. When Lead Pastor Tim Badal told me the story, I was amazed to hear how they do it.

They don’t have video venues. Each location has its own pastor and its own leadership team. The elders oversee the whole operation.

But they preach on the same text each Sunday. When I asked how they pulled that off, Tim told me that the elders set the overall preaching schedule. Recently they completed a 35-week study of the Sermon on the Mount. Right now they are doing a study of Samson. Each Monday the various teaching pastors meet to study the passage for that week and come up with a “default outline” that they can use. After agreeing on the general approach, each pastor has freedom to tailor the sermon to his own location. That’s why I preached on the story of Samson and Delilah from Judges 16, a text I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing as a visiting preacher. But this way I was just fitting into what the other locations were doing.

They have developed various locations as declining congregations asked to join the VBC family. They are willing to consider it if the congregation will buy into the overall vision and if the leaders will fold themselves into the shared leadership structure. Evidently it works amazingly well. When I told Tim that I had never heard of anything like this, he said when they are looking to add staff pastors, they look at 4 Cs: Character, Courage, Competence, and Chemistry. The last C is just as important as the others, he said. if someone doesn’t buy into the vision, they won’t work out even if they are otherwise highly qualified.

He used this illustration to explain their approach. Shortly after the Second World War, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower took three weeks to drive across America. General Eisenhower noted that America had plenty of country roads but needed a system of freeways to expedite cross-country travel. Years later that insight lead to the Interstate Highway System. Tim said the non-negotiable values of the church are like I-80, the interstate highway that cuts across Illinois. The country roads stand for particular programs that a given location may develop. So there is freedom built upon the agreed-upon “interstate highway” values.

The church puts a high value on “missional” ministry in the community and around the world. Thus at the Sugar Grove campus this morning, they encouraged people to get involved in the community “corn boil” coming up soon. They have teams going out soon to Alaska and to Uganda to do short-term mission work, with many other teams coming and going during the year.

On their website they emphasize something I’ve never seen before. They promise visitors that Village Bible Church will have a “homey” feel. That’s a good word to use, especially if it’s true. I’ve been to plenty of churches I liked but would not describe as “homey.” But I think that’s a good word for the folks in Sugar Grove. Perhaps that explains their remarkable growth over the last fews. When the unchurched visit, they feel like they have come home at last.

Jess Moody remarked that people choose a church with their noses. They can smell the joy. That’s certainly true in Sugar Grove. We could sense the joy, and that’s why felt at home there this morning.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?