Today Harvest Bible Chapel is a family of thousands, with Christ-adoring worshipers on multiple campuses throughout Chicagoland. But we started as a group of 18 people, who gathered from five different churches across the northwest suburbs and desired to form a new church. Twenty-seven-year-old James MacDonald was invited to serve as their Senior Pastor.
Together, they developed a vision for this church, which grew into the Four Pillars—Unapologetic Preaching, Unashamed Adoration, Unceasing Prayer, and Unafraid Witness. Built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and framed by these pillars, Harvest Bible Chapel was launched on September 18, 1988, at Rolling Meadows High School with 207 in attendance.
1995 Rolling Meadows Campus
After meeting in a high school for seven years, a founding member and Elder of Harvest, Roy Gromke, discovered the property that is now known as the Rolling Meadows Campus. The growing congregation of 500 gave $392,000 in six weeks to secure the building—astonishing then and now. The first service in this new house of God was held on September 10, 1995 with 1,100 in attendance.
1997 Rolling Meadows Growth
Soon after we found our first church home, the pastor and people of nearby Prospect Heights Baptist Church were struggling to stay afloat. After visiting area churches to find a place where God was visibly at work, they found it at Harvest. PHBC elected to close the doors and sell their church building for $1 million. Then on August 24, 1997, they gifted those funds to Harvest and committed to becoming part of the work God was doing here. Many members of that congregation remain part of Rolling Meadows to this day.
1997 Walk in the Word
As Pastor James and Kathy have always believed in sowing back into the fields from which they have harvested, an opportunity to broadcast on the radio seemed a natural next step for their ministry. The Walk in the Word radio program first aired on one Chicago station in 1997. From the outset, the goal was not to be “that guy on the radio,” but to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and cultivate a hunger for more gospel-preaching, Bible-believing churches. Today, Walk in the Word is heard on nearly 1,200 stations across North America, and their reach and impact has extended through podcasting, digital media, and online teaching around the world.
1998 Vision 2000
By 1998, the original worship center in Rolling Meadows was overflowing with three services each weekend. The Vision 2000 campaign was launched to expand the ministries byfunding the completion of unfinished space at the Rolling Meadows Campus. This campaign was a massive success, resulting in the building of the Cornerstone Café, new classrooms, offices, a commercial kitchen, the Learning Center, the Chapel, the gym—and untold numbers of lives that have been forever altered within those walls.
2000 Harvest Bible Fellowship
In March of 2000, Pastor James shared his growing vision to plant “10 churches in 10 years”… and we prayerfully commissioned Pastor Ron and Jody Zappia, along with 300 people from our church, to start Harvest Bible Chapel Glen Ellyn (now Naperville). In 2002, our church-planting ministry Harvest Bible Fellowship was formed, and ten churches were planted—in just four years. By the 10-year mark, the Fellowship had 62 Harvest Bible Chapels around the world. In 2014, fourteen years into our mission of planting church-planting churches, we celebrated the launch of our 100th church, in Brantford, Ontario. This church planting vision continues to thrive as pastors are being trained and sent forth to develop core groups and plant Harvest Bible Chapels across North America and internationally.
2002 Camp Harvest
Having experienced the unique life-changing work that God does when we interrupt our typical routines, our leaders began searching the Midwest for land suitable toward building a camp, or property with an existing camp. After two years of searching without success, church leaders backed away from the idea of owning our own camp. But shortly thereafter, a generous supporter of Walk in the Word offered Harvest her property—650 beautiful, wooded acres on a lake in Newaygo, Michigan—and Camp Harvest was launched on July 28, 2002. As of summer 2016, there have been countless decisions made for Christ at Camp Harvest, along with the immeasurable life-transforming impact on countless students, men, women, and families.
2004 Elgin Campus
As the Lord continued to increase our congregation in depth and number, we outgrew the Rolling Meadows Campus. After a long season of fasting and prayer, in 2003 we were given the Elgin Campus—80-acres with a 280,000-square-foot building and 900-car parking garage. Though valued at $53 million, through the generosity of Hobby Lobby and the Green family, we received the entire property for one dollar. The Elgin Campus held their first service in September 2004 with over 800 in attendance and has become the church home to thousands of worshipers every week, as well as the home of our global teaching and church planting ministries, our pastoral training center, and our Christian school.
2004 Harvest Christian Academy
The scope of the Elgin Campus allowed us to fulfill a dream: A preschool through grade 12 Christian school, to help us implant the truths of God’s Word into the hearts of young people seven days a week.
As of fall 2016, Harvest Christian Academy has 700 students, more than 90 staff members, and is aggressively moving forward with a high leadership focus toward increasing excellence in academics and athletics, and all that God has in store for the next chapter.
2004 Niles Campus
As our leaders prayed and sought to plant churches in the city of Chicago, a small congregation with a struggling church in Niles was looking for new life. At their final congregational meeting, they voted to never vote again and to become a Harvest Bible Chapel—gifting their building to us. The Niles Campus became our third location. Today, the vibrant Niles Campus has 1400 people worshiping on a weekly basis in a totally revamped and expanded building, thanks to the generosity of our church family through the 5G Campaign.
2007 Crystal Lake Campus
In 2001, the Crystal Lake Campus began as the second Harvest church plant. A group of 200 passionate Harvest members were sent from the Rolling Meadows Campus and planted in Crystal Lake, holding worship services in the auditorium of Crystal Lake South High School. In 2007, after this church plant entered some difficult financial waters, they returned to become part of Harvest as our fourth campus. Officially launching on September 1, 2007, we dedicated a new building as the new home for the Crystal Lake Campus in 2008. Today, more than 1000 people worship weekly at this campus—a close-knit family of Christ followers who are deeply committed to living out the gospel and seeing God use their church to impact their community.
2009 Chicago Cathedral Campus
Our inaugural ministry in the heart of Chicago began on September 20, 2009, with a mobile campus that met for worship on Sunday nights at a school in Wicker Park. In September of 2012, we experienced another provision of God, in the form of the Scottish Rite Cathedral—a historical landmark we reclaimed for the gospel in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast—which became the Harvest Cathedral Campus. Launching in September 2012, the Cathedral Campus has grown into a weekly body of over 500 each weekend. This unique location and environment have been leveraged for student and ministry gatherings, our first Vertical Church Band live recording, and opportunities to actively partner with urban ministries—becoming more together than we could ever be apart.
2011 Aurora Campus
As another new, unforeseen door opened to bring Harvest to the Aurora area, 200 people from the Elgin Campus were sent south, opening as the Aurora Campus on January 23, 2011. This campus began in a TV studio that had been donated to our church. Seeing tremendous growth and community impact, it quickly expanded to three full worship services each weekend. In April 2016, we acquired a permanent church facility in Aurora to allow the Aurora Campus to continue to grow, both in number and effectiveness in reaching people for Christ.
2012 Deerfield Road Campus
A core group in Chicago’s North Shore began meeting and praying together in 2011, with the desire to become a Harvest campus. On April 8, 2012, their desire became reality as the North Shore Campus launched its first service at the Winnetka Community House. In short order, this church family needed a place for weekday ministries. So we prayed, sacrificed together, searched for and ultimately found a new permanent location on Deerfield Road in Highland Park, in September of 2015.
2012 Vertical Church Band
In 2012, after several decades of developing the worship culture at Harvest, the Vertical Church Band was born. Since then, the output of Christ-adoring songs from various worship team members has continued to accelerate. Our musicians have taken to heart the mission, core, and purpose of Vertical Church music: To write songs of ascription for the church to use in worshiping Christ around the world. Vertical Church Band has released four albums through Essential Records: Live Worship from Vertical Church in 2012, The Rock Won’t Move in 2013, Church Songs in 2015, and Frontiers in 2016—with the last two albums peaking at #1 on the Christian Billboard chart. VCB currently has more than 20 songs in the CCLI’s Top 500 Songs Sung in US Churches, including “Open Up the Heavens.”
2012 Vertical Church Films
A growing vision among our leaders of producing excellent Christian feature films was shared, and a professional producer and director of multiple short and feature films answered the call. In 2010, Dallas Jenkins came from Los Angeles to Chicago to help us start on a path toward using films for Christ. Armed with the conviction that the most influential media (movies) should be leveraged for the most influential message (the gospel), our first project was the Christmas 2013 short film, The Ride, which won festival acclaim across the country and international distribution. It was followed by an Easter short film, Once We Were Slaves, which brought similar success. Vertical Church Film’s debut feature film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, began production in May of 2015 and released nationwide in January of 2017.
2014 Walk in the Word TV
God has shown great favor and expanded the ministry of Walk in the Word to a daily television program in 2014, with an audience extending around the world on the largest Christian television network. Because of Walk in the Word TV, the Bible teaching of Pastor James that happens each week in the pulpit of Harvest can now be seen in 98% of households in America—literally reaching millions every day, with the close of each program challenging viewers to “Stay in the Scriptures.”
2015 Act Like Men
After a series of arena-scale conferences and the well-received book, Act Like Men, Pastor James and the leaders of Harvest took the simple message of 1 Corinthians 16:13 to challenge our men like never before. Five late-night discipleship events elevated the biblical standard that men are called to by God, and paved the way for ‘the greatest event in human history’—the first Act Like Men Palooza. In June of 2016, this landmark event was held on the grounds of Camp Harvest and attended by more than 800 men.
2017 Experience Much More
In 2017, after the success of the men’s initiatives, Harvest began to dream how to expand our women’s ministry. The Lord led the team to focus on Romans 5:10 and the beautiful concept of “much more” found only in Christ. A captivating conference–filled with speakers/musicians, a multi-media museum style presentation, and a 100+ page full scale magazine–supported this endeavor. In March 2017, over 2,300 women attended this first-ever event calling women to their fullness in Christ.