- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

What may be the Washington area's largest church is getting bigger.
McLean Bible Church has entered the second phase of an $86-million fund-raising effort for its new complex just west of Tysons Corner.
Such a sum may not be the largest ever raised by a church, but it dwarfs the mere $40 million raised by Second Baptist Church in Houston or the $50 million that Christian Faith Center in Federal Way, Wash., is trying to generate.
"This church is without a doubt one of the 25 fastest-growing Protestant churches in America," says John Vaughn, founder of the Megachurch Research Center in Springfield, Mo. "This is significant growth for one of the great churches of America."
Since it began holding services early this year on a 43-acre lot at 8925 Leesburg Pike, McLean Bible's attendance has shot up from 5,000 to 6,300, to rival the 7,500-member congregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg. The church, Virginia's second-largest, raised $42 million over three years to buy the land and an existing building owned by the National Wildlife Federation.
McLean Bible is now marshalling forces to raise the next $44 million for its Phase II campaign over a three-year period. Plans are to build a 2,400-seat worship center and a teen activity center, and complete a 2,500-space parking garage.
They may not have much difficulty raising the money. Despite efforts by church leaders — who refused all comment for this article — to remain low profile, members include former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, America Online Chairman Steve Case and Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican.
"The single greatest limiting factor to our ability to impact the Washington, D.C., area for Jesus Christ is our present facility," a church brochure quotes the Rev. Lon Solomon, the church's senior pastor, as saying.
McLean's high level of fund raising is not unusual, says Bill Wilson, president of Resource Services Inc., which helped Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago raise $80 million and Second Baptist in Houston raise $40 million.
"It is my understanding that McLean certainly is the largest megachurch in Northern Virginia and one of the largest on the northern part of the East Coast," Mr. Wilson says. "They have a lead commitment of many millions."
The record for church fund raising may belong to Community of Joy, a Glendale, Ariz., church that raised $100 million five years ago to fund a 127-acre expansion project. Joe Miller, student-ministries pastor for Lighthouse Christian Center in Puyallup, Wash., and operator of a Web site called churchconstruction.com, says churches doing fund raising must engage as many of their members as possible.
"People want a sense of ownership and belonging, and if the leadership fails to create that atmosphere, then fewer people will give and some may choose to leave the church," he says. "Successful marketing must also be tailored to the personality of the people. Each church has its own internal culture and programs must always be designed to fit into that culture."
The Leesburg Pike campus — known as the Route 7 campus to church insiders — has a two-story parking garage and a partly remodeled facility, but its seating capacity in the windowless sanctuary is only 1,100. The church still holds some services in its old 850-seat building on Balls Hill Road in McLean to accommodate the overflow.
Starting with five families in 1961, McLean Bible's growth has exploded under the leadership of Mr. Solomon, the fourth pastor in four decades. He shuttles back and forth between church locations to preach at six of eight services; a routine that begins at 8:15 a.m. and doesn't end until late afternoon.
It ministers to a myriad of needs: junior high and senior high youth groups, Bible memory clubs for children, smaller adult-discipleship groups, Sunday evening Generation X services that bring in 2,000 adults in their 20s and 30s, and even a "McLean University" to teach new converts.
Expanding churches are not always welcomed by the neighbors. Bulldozed trees, jammed traffic patterns and loss of privacy have irked neighbors into protest through such organized groups as the Wolftrap Woods Homes Association (WWHA).
"It's no longer the same property or the same quality of life we once enjoyed," said Alan Caldwell, nearby resident and former WWHA president. "With a church, you have large comings and goings all throughout the week. There were also environmental and land-usage issues, but it's a situation that is stable."
Irv Auerbach, a Woodside Estates resident across Route 7, says increased traffic, stormwater runoff and tree clearance on the church's property are major issues.
Several church administrators refused multiple requests for comment, citing a precarious relationship with the neighbors. Even so, dissension has died down considerably since January 1999, when the church received initial approval to build from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"We hear [complaints] regularly, but it's from one or two people. It's not a bunch of people," said Stuart Mendelsohn, supervisor for the Dranesville district in Fairfax County. "We heard mostly from people when McLean Bible Church started their construction."
"We're all adults and can deal with the board's decision," Mr. Caldwell said. "We're living side by side and we still have interchanges [of communication]."
Just recently, the church purchased more land in order to continue expanding. This includes five acres to the west for a Special Needs Center, apparently for severely disabled children. The church has also acquired 31/2 additional acres to the east. McLean Bible will host a public meeting next month to outline plans for developing the additional acreage.
"The past is history, but now we have on the horizon a new facility to be constructed on additional land [the church] bought after they got approval from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors," Mr. Caldwell says. "The home associations understood that we would be impacted back in 1999, but now there's a new plan for expansion."
But Mr. Vaughn says that in time, the neighbors will appreciate what McLean Bible Church has to offer.
"That land will help the church to take care of their members and the community in a unique way," he says. "Only the government, hospitals, funeral homes and churches can meet the needs of all age groups. McLean will prove to be a major resource in that community."

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