Church Congregations Boom with Suburbs

Article excerpt

Byline: Shamus Toomey Daily Herald Staff Writer

When it comes to explosive growth at Northwest suburban religious institutions, two churches stand out like steeples: Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows and Willow Creek Church in South Barrington.

The two "mega-churches" have huge groups of followers who flock to weekly services. Harvest Bible, in its 11th year of operation, is not yet even in its teens, draws about 3,300 people

weekly.

Willow Creek, which once held worship services in an old Palatine theater, now routinely draws about 17,000 people a week, making it one of the largest in the country.

Other area religious institutions - while not on the same scale as Harvest and Willow Creek - have also seen strong surges in their weekly attendance, reflecting the area's growth and many people's ongoing desire to become a part of a religious community.

Buffalo Grove's St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, for example, had about 800 families by the late-1950s, some 90 years after the parish was officially formed and about the time when residential developers made a concerted push into the village.

"It began to skyrocket from there," Deacon Dennis Brown said of St. Mary's congregation.

Buffalo Grove is known for its large Jewish population, but some 5,200 Catholic families also call St. Mary's home - a boom that forced the church to add a new 1,000-seat sanctuary in 1979.

One of the area largest synagogues is Long Grove's Congregation Beth Judea, founded in 1968.

The conservative congregation's family membership has increased threefold in the past two decades, growth attributed by longtime Rabbi Howard Lifshitz not only to the building boom in the Long Grove/Buffalo Grove area, but also to the excellence of the temple's school and its relatively unchanged leadership over the years.

Beth Judea has impacted the Jewish community it serves, Lifshitz said, by providing its younger members greater understanding and appreciation of the Jewish heritage and by providing a place for adults to observe and to practice their faith.

But he also believes the outside community, through Beth Judea's work with the homeless, the needy and even overseas charity, has benefited from the practice of "tikkun olam" - Hebrew for "repair the world."

"I think the synagogue has sensitized people to Judaism's commitment to being responsive to members of the community at large," Lifshitz said.

In Schaumburg, Bethel Baptist Church has also seen strong growth. Bethel had just a handful of families in 1960 and now lists its membership at more than 2,000 people, not including children. The church also operates the largest private Christian school in the Northwest suburbs with more than 1,000 students from preschool through high school.

Schaumburg is also the home of the Church of the Holy Spirit, which drew just under 100 people to its first meeting in 1972, now boasts a diverse ethnic membership of more than 2,400 families. The Catholic church offers a Sunday Spanish Mass and all the sacraments in Spanish. …