Three years ago, the leaders at Ephrata Community Church realized they needed to expand their facility. The congregation, which began in 1977, had grown from just under 300 members to nearly 2,000 and the church they built in 2005 was bursting at the seams.
“We were up to four weekend services and just were out of space,” said the Rev. Kevin Eshleman, senior pastor. “We needed to do something to facilitate the ministry that was happening here.”
So the church embarked on a $15 million project that they have called Vision 2020.
Phase one of the new masonry and steel structure, which was constructed by Horst Construction of Lancaster, increased the church’s footprint from 34,000 to 114,000 square feet. It was completed and opened to members the weekend of July 13.
The enlarged church includes a 1,600-seat auditorium, community meeting rooms, a cafe and an indoor playground area. And when the phase two renovations of the existing church are completed this fall, it will include a fellowship hall and gymnasium.
Project manager Dwayne Hoover said that while construction of the new space took 14 months, his involvement was much longer.
“I been involved at least 2 1/2 years,” he said. “I worked on the design and then got it through construction and have another two months’ worth of work to get the renovation done.”
More than a church
Eshleman said the building, located at 70 Clay School Road, Ephrata, is more than just a church.
“Serving our community was a high value,” he said. “It’s easy to build a church building and say the community can use it. We wanted to flip that around and say we’re actually going to consider the community when building it.”
That’s reflected in the new cafe, which is lit by a bank of windows that offer natural light. Just off the cafe is an indoor playground that, once the church determines how best to manage it, will be open to the public.
With the additional space, the church now holds two services on weekends instead of four. Church members attending either the Saturday evening or Sunday morning service can enter the church through the cafe or via a lower level entrance that opens into an open two-story lobby adjacent to the auditorium. Church school classrooms also are off the lobby.
The church is nondenominational and has a house band. Its services are contemporary. Although there is no choir for most services, Eshleman said choirs do perform at Christmas, Easter and at other times throughout the church year.
Eshleman said church leaders had discussed the expansion for several years.
“We’ve been growing at a rate of about 12% per year since (2005),” he said.
Weekly attendance is about 1,700 between the Saturday evening and Sunday morning services.
Eshlemen, 56, grew up in the Elizabethtown area. He graduated from Evangelical Theological Seminary in Myerstown. He has been a pastor at the church for 18 years and lead pastor for the past five years.
Ephrata Community Church has planted two other churches —Threshold Church, which meets at Manor Middle School in the Penn Manor School District, and Lifeway Church, which holds services at Regal Theater at the Lebanon Valley Mall.