You Belong Here

The church board stared at stacks of paper, heralding 135 qualified candidates.

Their senior pastor announced his resignation in the early summer of 2014, and as soon as the word was out, resumes were in. As the board members rifled through documents detailing experience and education, they discovered an application from their youth pastor, Shane Hawkins.

The Vote

By 2014, Pastor Shane had spent 18 years leading students into the Kingdom. Teens would come in droves to listen to him preach, piling into the slender, brick building on 335 Sabella Street in Pekin, Illinois. But as Shane transitioned into year 19, he wondered if God was guiding him into something new. “I had what I call a ‘holy discontent,’” he says. “Something was stirring in me.”

After rounds of reviews and interviews, Shane’s resume rested on the table alongside one other applicant. “They asked me to preach and cast the vision of the things God was birthing in my heart, things I felt He was stirring me to begin,” he says. Following his message, the board conducted a vote and prepared to elect their new pastor. “I missed by four votes,” says Shane.

Days later, Pastor Shane sat on the beach of Lake Michigan next to his wife, Amy. His future clouded after the vote, and he wondered what God had planned next. They watched the tide climb up the sand then slide back into the lake, teasing their toes. “What would it look like if we planted a church?” he uttered. The subtle sounds of wind and waves echoed in his ears. Then, finally, Amy turned to face him. “You know what, I kind of feel like that’s something that’s stirring in me as well,” she responded. “This could be what God is wanting us to do.”

Sabella Street

City Church began shortly after in the Fall of 2014. They started in the Hawkins’ backyard with 25 people, primarily friends and family. By the following year, the church had expanded into an art gallery and added 100 new members. “People just began showing up and coming back,” says Pastor Shane. When the children’s ministry spilled into the dance studio next door, Pastor Shane began to pursue an old grocery store as a more permanent home. But over the course of a week, the store sold to a higher bidder, and Shane learned that the art gallery would soon be unavailable as well. “I can just remember a knot in my stomach,” he says. “But I also had a weird peace about it. God had led us to this moment. He wasn’t going to leave us.”

As Pastor Shane roamed the city in search of new real estate, he remembered a phone call from two months prior. A local church was looking to downsize and wondered if City Church would be interested in their youth center—an old, brick building, located on 335 Sabella Street. With the grocery store gone and the art gallery following suit, Pastor Shane pondered the idea of returning to the very building he’d left two years prior. “I felt God say, ‘Shane, I’m putting something in front of you. I want you to see what I see.’” As Shane listened, he began to visualize the future of his church through a new perspective. “I began to have a vision for this building,” he says, “to see it not as a youth center anymore, but as what it could be—a church.”

Dream Big

On October 1, 2016, Pastor Shane accepted the keys to his former youth center, and the people of City Church quickly settled in and spruced up their new home. The historic building now offers a fresh and edgy look, with black-rimmed windows, hardwood floors, and velvet couches. An orange stripe glides along the walls of the winding staircase, guiding newcomers to the children’s ministry upstairs, and the auditorium welcomes guests with large, gold lettering stretched across the back wall, reading, “You belong here.”

But as their name suggests, the people of City Church are more interested in reaching out to their community than retreating into a cozy building. In September, they wander the streets with garbage bags and buckets to clean up trash. In November, they “stuff a bus” with grocery totes full of food for the Salvation Army. In December, they donate hundreds of coats to students in need. “We are very intentionally community-minded,” says Pastor Shane. “People love knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves.”

As Pastor Shane pictures the future of City Church, he continues to pursue grand ambitions. He plans to create a sports complex area for families in their community, with trampolines, a foam pit, and a climbing wall. He rattles off games like black light dodgeball and archery tag and casually mentions a large slide that will weave in and out of their building like thread through cloth. To an outsider, his goals may sound lofty, implausible even. But Pastor Shane has learned to see his city and his church through the eyes of his Lord. Through that lens, no dream is too grand.