My first impression of Willow Creek as Ben and I turn up for the welcome meeting, only having been here once before over 10 years ago, is how big everything is. The campus is set on 155 acres of land with dedicated dual carriageway to take you from the public roads to the enormous car parks. Their new auditorium (which wasn't here last time I came) seats over 7,000 people and there are huge reception areas, eating areas and bookshop. It's all very high quality with beautifully maintained grounds, plasma screens displaying information everywhere, leather sofas and a real attention to detail. As we leave there's even a police car stopping the traffic on the main road so that we can get out of the exits as there are so many cars leaving. We may never have 155 acres but let's believe God, first of all for developing the excellent facilities we already have to the utmost, and then for the new facilities we will need as we grow towards being a church of 2,000 and beyond, and God adds new ministries to us. Projects such as air conditioning the auditorium, upgrading our PA and making more space for children and youth on Sundays must be priorities for us.
The second thing I notice is all the volunteers they have. People maintaining the grounds, welcoming you, serving food, serving in the bookshop, waving light sticks showing us the way to go as we drive out of the car park after the meeting - as J John would say "they're everywhere". It's been so exciting for me the last few weeks in Bracknell to have all the new car parkers and welcomers serving. I do believe that God wants The Kerith Centre and K2 on a Sunday to be "the most welcoming place in Bracknell", and that means teams of volunteers updating the website, working on the grounds midweek, getting the building ready for Sunday, car parking, welcoming on the door, meeting visitors in reception and showing them where to register their children and answering their questions, manning sign up desk for Alpha and other courses, running the Connect event for newcomers and fully staffing our youth and childrens work. Loads of hard work but so worth it when we see the lives of people who don't know God being changed.
One bit of excitement today was that as we were about to start our welcome meeting someone came in to say there had been a tornado warning and we all needed to go to the ground floor. We were then taken to a room on the ground floor with no windows to wait for the all clear. I've seen those films before where they go chasing tornadoes in cars but apparently no one thought it would be a good idea for Ben and I to take the rental car out to try and find the tornado - no sense of fun!
The conference proper starts tomorrow. Bill Hybels came and spoke briefly to the overseas delegates today and in about 15 minutes managed to say enough to have made it feel like we'd have come all this way just for that. I'll let you know how it feels after a full session from him tomorrow!
Sorry not to have time to write in detail about the New Community meeting (which Craig who arrived today got here in time for - great to have him with us) but I need to get to sleep now as we're leaving early to get to the conference and I'm not good at mornings!