Published June 6, 2013
The Chapel uses high tech for higher calling
Hinsdale’s newest church is part of multi-site network, teaching the Gospel in modern form
By Ken Knutson
On Easter Sunday last year, Hinsdale welcomed its newest faith community to town.
The Chapel, a church with eight sites across the Chicago area, opened its outpost at 620 N. Oak St. It supplanted the former Oak Community Church, whose leadership invited the Libertyville-based church network to give its congregation a fresh start.
Hinsdale’s Court Airhart, who was part of that leadership team, said the changeover went as smoothly as hoped.
“The transition was really good,” he said. “I think any change can be difficult. We had a lot of people who were searching for what God wanted to do.”
Airhart, who was a member of Hinsdale Baptist Church before it became Oak Community, said The Chapel has maintained that close-knit atmosphere with the resources of a 6,000-member church.
“Sometimes when you go to a larger church, (feeling a sense of community) can be a little difficult,” he said. It’s kind of like you have the best of both worlds. We have the ability to be involved in much larger things which normally a church of our size would not be able to be a part of.”
The church’s children’s ministry is a good example, he said. The Chapel’s central staff creates the materials and provides the needed technology, a costly proposition for a smaller church.
“They put together a wonderful curriculum with great training, very inventive, and it gets kids involved,” Airhart said.
Campus pastor Jeff Knitt was serving at The Chapel’s Grayslake campus when he was tapped to lead the Hinsdale church plant.
The Chapel did not start out to be a reproducing church, Knitt noted, but responded when its flagship church could not accommodate burgeoning attendance.
“Multi-site was never really on the table until that moment,” he said. “People were driving an hour (to attend). If you’re a Christian and you value being part of a church family, it’s hard for you when you’re an hour away.”
But with the church’s simulcast technology, one of the Chapel’s co-founding senior pastors can speak live at one campus and have it transmitted to the other sites.
Knitt lowers three screens at the front of the sanctuary, which has been converted into a contemporary mini-auditorium. On Sundays the middle screen, located where the preacher would normally stand, displays the speaker’s full-body image as if there in the flesh.
“We believe a regular, centralized message is one of the ways that we maintain one church in multiple locations — and allows our senior pastors to lead,” he said.
Suzanne Hallene of Hinsdale said she was familiar with the multi-site concept from the outset but acknowledged it was a leap of faith for other church members.
“I think that was the biggest concern of a lot of people, not having live teaching,” Hallene said.
The more high-tech approach goes over well with the younger generation, she said, but there’s a sensitivity to longtime congregants.
“I think The Chapel tries to take care of the whole body and not turn off a certain segment,” Hallene said.
She remarked that the church has been very supportive of the Women of Hope group in which she is active, a group that began years before The Chapel took over and draws as many as 150 women from inside and outside the church to its Thursday morning gatherings.
“They said, ‘How can we help you do what you’re doing in an even better manner?’ ” she said.
Knitt, 34, said The Chapel’s two senior pastors visit each campus periodically to make personal connections.
Airhart admits he wasn’t sure he’d be a fan of the simulcast sermons. But he now appreciates the way the arrangement frees Knitt up to lean more into relational ministry.
“I think there’s a connectivity that Jeff Knitt is able to have because he has more time,” he said. “It frees him up to really engage in people’s lives. It’s neat.”
Airhart, father to a seventh-grader and a first-grader, said his kids enjoy the church’s youth ministries, where he volunteers as a teacher.
His daughter goes to The Zone for junior high kids on Wednesday nights and is loathe to miss a session, even when it conflicts with volleyball practice nearby.
“We drive to a different location for her on Thursday night so she can go to church on Wednesday,” he said. “That’s so exciting that she’s engaged like that.”
And Airhart said he is nourished by the spiritual direction and fellowship he receives.
“It’s a vibrant church that really preaches the Bible. There are a lot of neat people, and there’s really an opportunity for people to spend time in their faith,” he said.
Knitt said The Chapel’s vision is to reflect the ministry of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
“There’s something about new people who hear the message of Jesus,” he said. “And hopefully not just hear it but experience it.”
Affiliation: nondenominational and one of The Chapel’s eight campuses in the Chicago area
Founded: April 8, 2012 (The Chapel opened its first campus in Grayslake in the mid-1990s)
Pastors: Jeff Knitt, campus pastor; Scott Chapman and Jeff Griffin, co-senior pastors for all campuses
Worship: 10:30 a.m. Sundays
Average worship attendance: 150
Location: 620 N. Oak St.
Facility: The building originally was built for the Hinsdale Baptist Church in the 1950s. About 10 years, the church changed its name to Oak Community Church.
Theology: Jesus is the son of God, the Bible is the word of God, the Gospel is the wayto God and the church is the people of God.