OREM ¬ -- In late March of 1989 -- almost 20 years ago to the day -- then 34-year-old pastor Scott McKinney, his wife, Sara, and their four small children pulled into Utah Valley with a moving van and a mission -- to revitalize a church.
"It was a dying church," said McKinney, senior pastor of Christ Evangelical Church, which has its offices in Orem. "In 1945, people from Geneva Steel who had moved here from other areas and established the church were passing from the scene. There were maybe 25 to 30 people attending." Members decided to bring in a new pastor and do what they could to put the church in the hands of a new generation.
The church's once-shrinking congregation has grown dynamically, and the double-session Sunday-morning worship services typically draw from 650 to 850 people, McKinney said, who come from as far away as Sanpete County. Over 1,000 people attended services last Easter Sunday, he said. "The greatest number [of worshipers] come from Orem and Provo, and it spreads out from there," said McKinney.
Growth over the years has meant some growing pains. The church building on 400 East in Orem, across the street from Orem High School, saw two remodeling/expansion projects -- in 1990 and 1995. But church leaders ultimately decided it was time to move the flock to another pasture. The church has a plan for a new meetinghouse on Sandhill Road in Orem, and last week the Orem City Council agreed to waive requirements for a masonry wall along the property line -- moving the plan further along.
"I think [the decision to build a new building] was just necessary," said Gary Brockett, a member of the church's congregation since 1995. "The congregation was growing so fast -- and there was not enough room and not enough parking."
The old building is now being leased to Meridian School, and the church holds Sunday services at Mountain View High School in Orem as they raise money and move forward with plans for a new building. The church owns 5 1/2 acres on Sandhill Road in Orem at about 1475 South, just south of Stevens-Henager College.
Dan Grinder, pastor of ministry development for Christ Evangelical and a member of the congregation for more than three years, helped with the search for a new location and said the journey has been exciting.
"We looked at every piece of vacant land along the I-15 corridor, from south of University Parkway up to Lindon and Pleasant Grove," Grinder said. "We finally settled on the piece we own now."
McKinney said the church plans to start construction on the new church building this summer.
"Our hope would be to at least be able to occupy some part of the building before the end of the year," he said.
Through the church's growing process, meetings were held at Orem High School for six months, then Utah Valley University for 10 months, and currently at Mountain View High School for the past 14 months.
"We have been a wandering people," McKinney said. "Every Sunday, we move in and we move out. We are really looking forward to getting our own place."
Leaving the old building was a big step, McKinney said.
"There was packing up, and for a week I just kept turning down 400 East. ... But, I have learned some valuable lessons about buildings -- it is easy to let buildings become more important than they should be," he said. "I think what God is interested in is building the body of Christ, and I think that's happened through this."
Congregation member Michelle Pae said leaving the old building was "bittersweet," but planning for the new one has been fun, and she believes the new building project will unify the church as a group.
The McKinneys came to Utah from southern California, where Scott was an associate pastor of a church in Cyprus for three years; he was a high-school football coach and administrator prior to that assignment.
"We were committed to this," McKinney said of the move. "We decided this is where we're going to stay. Utah Valley is the place where we would serve. It's been a great experience."
Members of McKinney's congregation have a 20-year commemoration surprise planned for April 5, but the pastor has not been apprised of any details.
"I don't know what's going on," he said. "All I know is I'm supposed to be there."
As milestones for the church accumulate, so do milestones for the McKinney family. The McKinneys are about to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Daughters Ginny and Annie are both married, and Ginny recently presented the couple with their first grandchild. Son Rob is training to become a police officer and is engaged to be married. Their youngest daughter, Christy, is a congressional intern in Washington, D.C.
"This has been a great place, and a great place to raise kids. You hear stories about the pastor's kids and how they're bad as can be," McKinney said with a smile. "We're grateful to have raised our kids in this church, with these people. It's been an extended family, and we need that help raising our children."