Faith, Hope and Density Megachurches Bring Benefits , as Well as Traffic, to Communities

By Toomey, Shamus | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Faith, Hope and Density Megachurches Bring Benefits , as Well as Traffic, to Communities


Toomey, Shamus, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


With congregations measured in the thousands, "megachurches" such as the one being proposed in Lake County by the Southern Baptist Convention bring more than just steady streams of devoted followers to town.

The mammoth churches bring traffic, the potential for frustration among locals and a fear that they'll draw parishioners from smaller churches in the area.

But megachurches help the community through prestige, volunteers, social services, outreach, money, new residents and a chance for existing churches to become more focused and clarify goals, religious and civic leaders say.

The two largest churches in the area - Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington and Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows - bring followers in droves to weekend services.

The most mega of the megachurches, Willow Creek attracts about 17,000 people weekly. This presents traffic challenges on local roads such as Barrington and Algonquin roads.

Church officials say Willow Creek spends about $125,000 each year hiring off-duty police officers to direct traffic out of its 141-acre campus, South Barrington Village President Michael Neben said.

"Willow Creek has been working hard to relieve the traffic impact, but obviously it's still there," he said.

As Southern Baptist officials scour Lake County for a suitable site, traffic will be one of the main issues, officials predict.

"Nationally, there's a lot of concern about this sort of thing," said Lane Kendig, former Lake County director of planning who does contract planning work for several villages, including Long Grove, where the church hopes to find a temporary home.

"If you're on a street that's residential and all of the sudden you have 3,000 cars on Sunday, you're going to hear people screaming," he said.

But huge churches that target rapidly developing areas such as Lake County can be unfairly criticized by the same people who moved to the area to get "more house for the dollar," said Nancy Eiesland, a sociology of religion professor at Emory University in Atlanta and author of the new book "A Particular Place" that looks at the trend toward megachurches.

"In some ways, these megachurches can be seen as part of the problem in the changing of the community," she said. "But then again, everyone who moved there is part of the problem as well."

David Staal, Willow Creek's director of communications, said the church does receive complaints about traffic, but those calls are far outnumbered by callers enthusiastic about the church.

That's in part because the church brings scores of ministries to the area. For instance, a nearby food pantry run by Willow Creek supplies the equivalent of 10,000 weeks of groceries to families in need every year, he said.

At Harvest Bible, which draws more than 3,300 people to its three weekend services, the occasional traffic backup is outweighed, in part, by the programs its offers to residents, said Rolling Meadows Mayor Thomas Menzel, who cited the church's pre- marital counseling, single-parent support and divorce support programs as helpful to the area. …

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