by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (July 1, 2018) – For nearly 75 years, the building on the corner of 178th and William—and the people who gather there—have been known as First Baptist Church of Lansing. In August, that will change. The church will be renamed Cornerstone.
This change does not represent a new direction for the church, but rather a next step in fulfilling its vision as a true community church. First Baptist/Cornerstone Church intentionally reflects the demographics of Lansing—the congregation is about 50 percent Caucasian, 40 percent African American, and 10 percent Hispanic/Middle Eastern. Beginning already in 2016, church leadership began to have conversations about how to proactively maintain that mix. As a multi-ethnic group of believers, they wanted to remove any barriers that might prevent people from visiting the church.
Two main barriers were identified—outdated facilities and a misunderstood name.
As a statement in the vision packet prepared for church members explained, “Sadly, we are too often confused with authoritarian, legalistic churches, especially in the Anglo and Latino cultures. While our doctrine and message will never change, we want our name to change so it can be an asset for us.”
Church member and Campaign Chairman Saad Abbasy explained further, “We are seeking to communicate that we want to be a regionally-minded church, opening up the beauty of this diverse community to neighboring towns. The church believes there are people in Munster, Highland, Dyer, Homewood, Lynwood, and all the surrounding region who are looking for this type of multi-ethnic unity. Additionally, while the church retains its Baptist affiliation, we want to communicate clearly that we welcome visitors who do not have a Baptist background, or who might have negative preconceptions of what it means to be Baptist.”
Through a process of prayer and discussion, the church family chose the name Cornerstone from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians, in which Paul reminds a multi-ethnic church that they have Christ in common. “You’re no longer strangers or outsiders,” Paul writes. “You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together.” (Ephesians 2:19–21, MSG)
Changing their name is only a small part of the church’s renewed vision. Cornerstone Church is unrolling plans for using social media to engage the community, upgrading their technology to livestream Sunday services, enhancing the sanctuary, enlarging the bathrooms, reconfiguring the children and youth areas, improving signage throughout the building, and remodeling their fellowship hall. All of these investments are intended to make it possible to offer more services that are relevant to a wider variety of area residents. In addition, a tenth of the financial support the church raises will go into a matching-grant fund for Converge MidAmerica church planters, with a goal of starting other community-engaged churches in the Midwest.
Celebrating the first step
The remodeled fellowship hall—now known as The Gathering Place—is the first visible step in the visioning fulfillment process. The Cornerstone family held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Gathering Place on Sunday, July 1, after their 10:30am worship service.
The Gathering Place is fully ADA accessible, and will eventually become the main entrance to the church building because it is closer to the main parking lot and it conveniently funnels into the children and youth areas as well as the main sanctuary. designed to be a place where church members and first-time visitors will feel equally comfortable. It will be used for weeknight concerts and Sunday morning coffee as well as children’s events and family parties.
The past and the future
Pastor Michael Eberly appreciates the church’s history of community involvement, and he believes that history has well prepared church members to embrace changes that are necessary for continued growth. In a letter to the congregation, he praised the church’s longevity and faithfulness, and affirmed their current condition: “Not only are we authentically Bible-based and multi-ethnic, we are in the healthiest position we’ve been in—vitality in our fellowship and in our worship. Seekers are coming to faith, and the body is growing and happily serving….”
Church members attended a farewell event in the old fellowship hall where they had an opportunity to share memories of the hundreds of wedding receptions, baby showers, and youth events that took place in the familiar structure. Those in attendance painted their handprints on the old walls as a way of saying farewell and blessing the space for future uses.
Rolling it all out
In preparation for the official name change in August, First Baptist/Cornerstone Church is in the process of designing logos, getting new signs, and creating a new website. As one way of keeping the surrounding community up-to-date on the rollout, the church is planning a series of free community events. Vacation Bible School has been a longstanding community program, and this year’s VBS begins on July 9 for kids between 3 years old and 5th grade. In addition, the community is invited to a family movie night on July 27 and a “fall bash” in October.
First Baptist/Cornerstone Church is located at 3440 178th Street in Lansing. The church office can answer questions about the upcoming events or the revisioning process—708-474-5400.