Central Christian Church opens 2nd campus in the Gilbert growth corridor - East Valley Tribune: Spirituallife

Central Christian Church opens 2nd campus in the Gilbert growth corridor

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Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2007 2:11 pm | Updated: 6:15 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A new church campus with 93,000 square feet of space may be impressive. But the church is fast to tout one specific feature: 32 restroom stalls for women.

A new church campus with 93,000 square feet of space may be impressive. But the church is fast to tout one specific feature: 32 restroom stalls for women.

Central Christian Church of the East Valley may have underplanned the ladies’ rooms at the campus it built in Mesa in 1986, but not this time as it scrambles to complete the four buildings for its new “south campus” on 160 acres at the southeast corner of Germann and Lindsay roads in Gilbert. Grand opening services will be Oct. 7.

While some East Valley congregations have looked at growth and demographics and have chosen to sell smaller aging campuses for campuses in the south East Valley, the pastors and elders of Central Christian, 933 N. Lindsay Road, Mesa, chose to add a second campus — 10 miles south on Lindsay Road.

“We are going to make sure we are one church on two campuses,” said Jason Hamrock, communications director of the church that averages 6,000 attendance on Sundays.

They will make sure events at one site are replicated at the other. Its senior pastor, Cal Jernigan, typically will preach at the Mesa campus at 9 a.m., and a tape of that sermon will be delivered to Gilbert for its 11 a.m. services to be viewed on a massive screen. Logistically, it calls for Saturday services at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in Mesa; 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sundays at both campuses; and 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays in Gilbert.

The church currently employs 130 full- and part-time staff, and it anticipates it will need 400 volunteers to carry out ministries at the Gilbert campus, primarily for its children and youth programs.

The nondenominational megachurch joins an increasing number of giant congregations that have been planted in recent years in Chandler and Gilbert to reach a massive number of new households. Many campuses have quick access to the Santan Freeway stretch and ample real estate for future expansion. Central Christian’s plan calls for five phases of construction. Ultimately, its initial 1,200-seat worship center will become a multipurpose center once a 3,000-seat sanctuary for worship is built along with another that can hold 6,000. In all, 155 acres would be developed, capped with extensive soccer, softball and baseball fields for a sports ministry. It is anticipated to cost $26 million.

“As our church grows and as our needs arise for expanding, we will do that aggressively,” Hamrock said.

A survey of its congregation showed about 1,500 of Central’s families live south of Guadalupe Road. About a third of those people now attending, or 2,000, are expected to be the core of the Gilbert congregation, he said.

“We are anticipating a whole lot of new people,” he said, emphasizing that the church is not vying for people from existing churches. “Churches are not our competition,” he said. “We are not getting people from another church to come here. This is not us at all. Our competition is the world, and we are trying to reach people who are not yet connected to a church or connected with Jesus.”

Jason Hamrock, the communications director for Central Christian, stands inside the worship center that is being built in Gilbert at Lindsay and Germann roads.

“God is all over this,” he said repeatedly during a recent walk-through of the campus, which is heavily developed to provide child and teen Christian education and faith formation.

Three of the buildings are dedicated to infants and toddlers, those in first through sixth grades, and youth. Twelve administrative offices and support space fill half of building where junior high and senior high ages will meet for an hour, back to back, on Sundays.

“Our slogan is 'Providing Direction for Life,’ ” he said, pointing out that a compass is the church’s logo.

The worship center includes a massive stage with a side door large enough for vehicles to enter. Jernigan likes to catch the congregation off guard, Hamrock said. So, expect him to ride onto stage in a convertible or end loader. At the Mesa campus, Jernigan arrived on a motorcycle for a “Born to Be Wild” sermon series. Another time, he preached from a bass boat.

“The way that church is done these days is a production — it’s theater,” Hamrock said, “but we have to balance that because people go to shows, they go to things that the world offers. It is high-definition. It is multimedia, and we have to be able to relate to them with that.”

The difference, however, is “we are relating a message of Jesus Christ — a real, live message.” He described it as a “balance between just a show and actually giving them something that is life-changing.”

Commonly, people criticize today’s churches as typically, boring, irrelevant and predictable, Hamrock said. Central Christian staff has determined to avoid being any of that.

“When people walk in, it’s like, 'Wow!’ ” he said. “We always try to gear toward men because we believe that if we get the husband, we are going to get the family.”

Dave and Liz Keppler of Gilbert make two to four trips weekly to Central’s Mesa campus. Soon the “trip to church” will drop from 30 minutes to about five. “Central saw this area was growing and was way ahead of the game,” said Dave Keppler. He likens the campus serving the burgeoning Gilbert community to Central Christian in its early years when Mesa was growing rapidly and it, too, “was a great place to raise a family.”

Keppler attributes Central’s growth and success, in part, to it being a nondenominational, Bible-believing church that readily receives people with a wide range of religious backgrounds and affiliations. “One of their ads used to say, 'It is not your parents’ church,’ and I love that saying,” he said. “It tells people it’s not your typical church.”

“We are real, we wear shorts and sandals and T-shirts,” said Keppler, 43, father of two children, ages 13 and 10. “We wear to church what we would wear at home. We try to act at church the way we do at home. We are not perfect. We are real people with real issues.”

“Our goal is to have those who don’t know Christ to feel comfortable, to come in as they are and sit back,” he said.

That approach is also reflected in Jernigan, the senior pastor, Keppler said.

“He is a real guy, and he talks to you as a real guy,” he said.

“If there is humility coming from the pulpit — realness — and the message is relevant ... It breeds the reason why we are here: To have those who aren’t churched try it,” Keppler said.

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