By Allison Hurtado
Chris Highfill wanted to plant a church in the city of St. Louis. His heart was set on it. Once he passed assessment in Chicago, he knew where he wanted to go. But one thing stood in the way: God's plan.
"I sat down with Gary Rohrmayer and Steve Mizel," Highfill said. "And they basically told me no, you should really consider planting in St. Charles County."
While Highfill may have been thrown off his game, he took their advice and started researching. He found that 360,000 people live in O'Fallon, Missouri, and only 15 percent of them attend a church. That leaves Highfill and Grace River Church with 306,000 people who don't know Jesus.
"O'Fallon was a very small town [not even] on a map 15 years ago, but now it’s one of the fastest-growing counties and is the second-largest suburb adjacent to St. Louis in the metro area," he said. "At first I was resistant to the idea because I wanted to be in the city, but I am so glad we changed the direction and we are in the right spot."
Grace River Church began as a Super Bowl party. Highfill and his wife invited seven people over to have fun and watch the game. Then they formed a Bible study. Six people came. During spring 2014, the Bible study grew to 20, so they began hosting community movie nights.
"We even had youth groups come in from out of town to help," he said. "We had over 200 people come. We just wanted to let the community know we were there."
After an information meeting with a live Q&A segment and a shared vision plan, Grace River Church launched three preview services, one a month until the grand opening on February 8.
"It was good to get our feet wet and a good way for us to invite family and friends we had met before we go public," he said. "Each service grew, and we started with 60 people and it grew to 108."
Highfill couldn't believe 141 people attended service on the grand opening. While he says they have baptized only one person so far, he isn't discouraged by it. He has created community and relationships that have already made an impact.
He met Bill Holt in the local Chamber of Commerce, who, unbeknownst to Highfill, hadn't been to church in 30 years. Holt attended GRC's preview services, which Highfill suspected meant he came just to be a well-wisher. At a networking meeting two months before the grand opening, Holt stood up and said something astounding.
"Bill stood up in a group of 30 peers and said, ‘I haven't been to church in 30 years, but I've been to all preview services and I hope to see you all there,'" Highfill said. "We've talked a lot and he wells up with tears when we talk about Jesus. I can see his heart being softened and it's just an incredible thing."
Highfill has big plans for Easter. He hopes to baptize his first group of new Christ-followers.
"We are excited about the future and we've got bright days ahead of us," he said. "We feel as if God has trusted us with a lot, and we are moving forward.”