New church at former school site a big draw

By on September 12, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

The new LCBC church in Ephrata was packed for its first service Sunday (Photo by Stan Hall)

“Humbling and overwhelming.”

Those were just a few of the emotions campus pastor Matt Graybill at LCBC’s new Ephrata campus felt as the church opened its doors for the first time this past Sunday.

“The campus pastor is responsible for leading and developing the campus’ ministry team,” explained John Zeswitz, executive director of ministries with LCBC. “He is also responsible for caring for the campus community via staff and volunteer ministry teams, and inspires and motivates those who attend that campus to be lives changed by Christ.”

Graybill’s excitement was palpable Sunday.

“This has been such a humbling yet overwhelming experience,” said Graybill, who pointed out the warm reception of other community church’s. “I’ve received at least 10 phone calls from other local pastors welcoming us to the community. That is humbling indeed.”

The Bergstrasse Lutheran Church, located across the road from LCBC, publicly welcomed the new campus on their sign along Route 322. The church also sent flowers as a friendly gesture.

The brand new 750-seat building is located along Hahnstown Road on the site of the former Bergstrasse Elementary School and is just the latest in a string of campus locations all originating from the main LCBC (or Lives Changed By Christ) campus along Route 772 between Mount Joy and Manheim. Additional campuses have been opened in York, Harrisburg and Lancaster City.

“We are very excited about the location with visibility and accessibility at the intersection of two major roads, routes 222 and 322,” added Zeswitz.

There has been much excitement throughout the LCBC community, with not only the opening of the new Ephrata campus but the recent announcement that another large church in Harleysville has asked to merge with LCBC to become a sixth campus. Plans for LCBC Branch Creek still face the votes of both congregation, along with further planning ahead of becoming a reality.

Reality for the Ephrata campus, however, brought out 2,343 in total attendance on , not even including the small army of approximately 150 volunteers placed throughout the entire complex to assure the first day went smoothly. Attendance of children from birth to 4th grade was 389; while there were 124 children from 5th to 8th grade. Like all satellite locations, the church has three Sunday services at 9 and 11 a.m., and 1p.m.. And like all locations, those same volunteers will be on hand week after week.

While like the other locations, Ephrata is not aiming for huge numbers but fulfill the mission of lives changed by Christ.

Senior Pastor David Ashcraft stresses that the purpose of building satellite campus locations is not to make it more convenient for those already attending LCBC. Satellite locations are being built solely for those who do not yet attend church.

“When we locate a campus in a community, we tell that community that we haven’t opened the campus to make their commutes shorter or their lives easier,” said Zeswitz. “They are already coming to an LCBC campus so we will know they will make the drive. We come for those relationships in their lives that matter to them, so that those folks who may not make the trek with them on a weekend will have the opportunity for their lives to be changed by Christ.

“We strive to be a place where people, who may not have been in church in a long time, if ever, can come and have the opportunity to start a conversation with God that their lives might be changed by Christ, explained Zeswitz.

He went on to explain the church’s mission.

“We work to create environments where lives can be changed by Christ,” he said. “You will find open spaces in a large atrium for people to have conversations; hundreds of volunteers already serving (before the campus is even open) whose job it is to welcome you; a band that delivers worship in a relevant manner for today’s generation; and a Bible-focused message that will tell you about some aspect of a God who loves us, is not surprised that we’re broken, and has made a way for us to be with Him through His son Jesus Christ. We try to create environments for people who don’t like to go to church — and hope they find that when they show up, they’re accepted for where they are on their journey and will be challenged to change as God reveals to them how to do life and do it well with Him.”

In that vein, the first service at Ephrata quickly went to standing room only, with leaders asking that those who are regular LCBC partners give their seats up, so newcomers might have a place to sit.

And perhaps that is part of what has taken a congregation little more than 20 years old from a small group of faithful meeting for prayer in a partner’s garage, to having an average combined weekly attendance at all campuses in the thousands.

Zeswitz was asked for his take on the exponential growth of LCBC.

“The people — whose lives are being changed by Christ, are inviting their friends, their family, their co-workers, their neighbors, so they might have the same opportunity to be introduced to Jesus. Our weekend attendance, averaging 12,000, is predominantly driven by those invitations.”

The LCBC Ephrata experience is very much in keeping with the look, feel and organization of the other campuses. From the minute one approaches the parking lot and notices a number of volunteers wearing bright yellow safety vests directing traffic, to the child check-in area, to the café located in the church lobby, the church immediately feels like home to the faithful and the newcomer alike.

A number of special environments are designed specifically for children from birth through high school. Each environment is colorful, graphic and clearly thought-out. Each is staffed with volunteers to assure children are cared for in a safe environment that is fun, yet carries the same Lives Changed By Christ message.

To keep the message consistent across all campuses, messages are video recorded during either the 4:30 or 6:30 Saturday evening services at the main campus in Manheim (the only location with Saturday evening services), then distributed to the satellite locations in time for the Sunday service. So good is the audio and visual equipment at that location that the church has received rave reviews of many outside groups that have come in to perform concerts or lecture series. And so good was the quality of the video feed on the stage-sized screen at Ephrata that many actually thought Ashcraft was there life.

“We had a few people at the first service actually ask to speak with David (Ashcraft) after the service and were amazed when we told them he was not there,” commented Graybill.

Indeed, so good was the high definition video that it was hard to tell if it was live or perhaps even done in 3-D.

All musical worship at each location is done live.

LCBC strives to be a church that draws people who might otherwise never dream of attending a more traditional stained glass windowed church. Casual attire is not only acceptable, it is modeled by leaders and regular attendees alike. One will not see the pastor in a suit and necktie. And the casual feel corresponds with the contemporary style of worship. But rest assured, while the feel of the church may be casual, the message is not. LCBC designs every aspect of its mission around taking the message of Christ to the un-churched in a way that is not off-putting but inviting.

So much is this the mission of LCBC that several years ago, after opening its first satellite location, the church changed its formal name from Lancaster County Bible Church to Lives Changed By Christ.

The Ephrata Campus staff consists of the campus pastor, Matt Graybill; worship leader Ryan Holmes, student leader (and Ephrata local) Matt Stoltzfus, kidMinistry leader Melissa Diem and administrative coordinator Bobbi Spencer.

Member Lowell Parks has been with LCBC for nine years, served at the Manheim campus, then the city campus and served for four years as an elder. On Sunday he was a volunteer.

“The first service was so full, some actually were turned away,” said Parks. “It was standing room only.”

“It’s all very exciting” said long-time kid volunteer Gerald McDowell. Both of McDowell’s young sons agreed.

The transformation of the site, from razing the former school, to the construction of the new church, has been an amazing process spanning several years. While the Ephrata campus is the first satellite that is a completely new building, the process of making it a reality had to follow a path similar to the other locations. From the very start, leaders worked hard to cooperate with Ephrata Township officials and be a good addition to the community. Just prior to the demolition of the school, church officials hosted partners of the press and The Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley on a tour of the old building, offering the historical society anything of historical significance for its collection.

“At this point we’re pretty focused on the weekend gatherings and getting that running well, in addition to a Wednesday night environment for high school students grades 9-12 we call Circl3 — 7:30 – 9 p.m.,” added Zeswitz. “As we ask people to do three things when they come to LCBC — gather, connect and serve — we will be starting LIFE groups in October, (which are) groups of 8-12 people who do life together encouraging each other to live more Christ-like, and giving people the opportunity to jump in and serve in a ministry area.”

For additional information on LCBC, visit Gary P. Klinger welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at More LCBC, page A18

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