For being so young, Harvest Church is big.
About 1,800 people attended the 3-1/2-year-old church's first service in its 35,000-square-foot building on Sunday, according to executive pastor Brian Hopkins.
"It kind of blows us away," Hopkins said. "It's surreal to us."
Construction of the $4 million building, located west of Skyview High on Wicks Lane, started a little more than a year ago.
Hopkins said church members donated $1.7 million to the project, and volunteers performed another $500,000 in work.
"It's been a whirlwind," said Carrie Stahley, an assistant to Hopkins. "Everyone just pulled together as a team."
Work is still under way on some parts of the structure - builders were putting up two towering climbing walls in the entryway on Wednesday - but the congregation couldn't wait to move in any longer.
"People who put their work into this were tearing up and so emotional" on Sunday, Stahley said. "It was amazing to see a dream come true."
'Planting' a new church
Harvest Church started in September 2000 as an offshoot of Billings' Faith Evangelical Church. Its pastor, Vern Streeter, was the youth pastor at Faith Evangelical for 10 years before church leadership suggested he "plant" a new church.
About 150 people attended Harvest Church's first Sunday service three years ago at Skyview High, where the growing congregation continued to meet until this week.
|onthenet Harvest Church Website|
The church quickly established itself as community-oriented by hosting public Easter egg hunts and Independence Day celebrations at Castle Rock Park. Hundreds of church volunteers work to stage both annual events, which are free.
"Why do we do that? Because we want to be a blessing to the community," Hopkins said. "God loves people, and so do we."
Church leaders view the events as opportunities to introduce Harvest to potential congregants, but outreach is not their sole goal.
"We serve with no strings attached," Hopkins said.
Hopkins believes Harvest Church is successful because it makes an effort to be relevant.
"For so many people, the church has become irrelevant to their lives. That is nobody's fault except the
churches'. They've made the decision not to be relevant," he said. "What we decided to do is say, 'Hey, look, we're a church and we believe the Bible and Jesus Christ is relevant and matters to every single person's life.'"
To that end, Harvest Church built its new home with the community in mind.
"If you think back a few decades ago, church was the community hub," Hopkins said. "We want this building to be used. We see this as a seven-day-a-week facility," he said.
In addition to the 28-foot and 36-foot climbing walls, the new building has a basketball/volleyball court and rooms the public can use for meetings. A preschool will begin in the fall.
Six more construction phases are planned. A senior center, food court, dedicated sanctuary, sports fields and a swimming pool are all on the drawing board.
"We believe so strongly that a church exists to meet needs in the community," Hopkins said.
The Harvest Church community is not limited to the Heights, Hopkins said. People from all over Billings worship there.
"We don't see ourselves as just a Heights church. A lot of people drive from the West End," he said. "That tells us something - like we're meeting a need That motivates us. It motivates us to do a great job in all our ministries."
Diane Cochran may be reached at 657-1287 or Diane.Cochran@lee.net.
|If you go
Celebrate Freedom, Harvest Church's third annual Fourth of July event, kicks off at 4 p.m. Sunday in Castle Rock Park. Admission is free, and plates of food can be bought for $1.
Games and inflatables will be on hand for kids, and adults can enjoy a volleyball tournament, a martial arts demonstration and live performances by several local bands.
The celebration will end with a professional fireworks show by Pyro F/X at dusk.