July 22, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria church finds more open space for Easter

Church of the Open Door Senior Pastor Jim Mindling poses Thursday inside the cavernous fieldhouse at Lorain’s All Pro Athletic Center off Leavitt Road. The Elyria church plans to hold its Easter service in the fieldhouse. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Church of the Open Door Senior Pastor Jim Mindling poses Thursday inside the cavernous fieldhouse at Lorain’s All Pro Athletic Center off Leavitt Road. The Elyria church plans to hold its Easter service in the fieldhouse. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

There is no other day in the Christian faith that holds the sanctity of Easter Sunday.

That is the day churches everywhere throw open their doors and invite all for services. But what do you do when on a normal Sunday you have to hold six services in three locations to accommodate all of your church members? How do you then cultivate the sense of togetherness and fellowship that epitomizes Easter?

Well, if you are the Church of the Open Door, you find a space large enough to hold all of your members in one place and plan an epic Easter service. That’s the goal this year.

The church plans to take its Easter service on the road from its spacious complex on state Route 113.

The All Pro Athletic Center, formally the Brad Friedel Premier Soccer Academies, will have its 75,000-square-foot fieldhouse transformed into a modern worship center. Volunteers will set up 2,500 chairs, a 24-foot by 40-foot stage and full sound and professional lighting to bring to life one of the largest church services held by Church of the Open Door.

“It’s going to be awesome,” said Senior Pastor Jim Mindling. “Everyone will get to see each other and it will be a kind of great reunion.”

But will it be enough? Mindling said his expanding church is such a draw that he can’t be sure.

“I’m afraid it still might not be big enough,” he said.

Mindling is not one to be boastful, but it’s easy to hear in his voice that he has a sense of pride about what his church is planning as well as what it has been able to do in the community.

Those who have been on the receiving end of help know the mission of the church well. For those who don’t, the Church of the Open Door has become synonymous with community service whether it’s hosting a massive, multisite back-to-school rally for Elyria’s students or bringing hundreds of volunteers together on Pride Day.

It’s easy to see a change has taken hold of the church with Mindling and his wife, Andrea, leading the way.

“I think that there is a lot of love in our church and people are hungry for that,” said the 53-year-old minister. “I think lives are being changed. People are tired of superficial changes. They want real-life changes. Everyone wants to be accepted and loved. That’s what we do well. We accept people as they are for who they are.”

He said there is no scientific formula behind the church’s success. Mindling said they grow as God leads them.

There is the main sanctuary on West Ridge Road as well as the Ralph Neighbour Center on the same campus. In 2012, a satellite campus opened in the former Avon Lake Baptist Church on Lear Road to serve families east of the church. And, this coming September, a second satellite church will take root in Vermilion to serve those to the west.

Larger cities are familiar with the phenomenon known as mega churches — the term used to describe a church that draws thousands. But locally, Sunday service is a more personal experience, and Mindling said beyond the Easter service, he doesn’t plan to change that idea.

“We could just build this gigantic building and have everyone together, but that’s not a wise use of our time or money,” he said. “We are not just trying to draw crowds. We are trying to reach people with the word of God. Jesus changes lives, and that’s what we are doing.”

Still, the Easter service will be a monumental task. From parking to making sure everyone can get in and out of the facility, Andrea Mindling said it took a lot of logistical work.

“It has been really interesting in how all the pieces have come together,” she said. “We are basically bringing together six services in one location. We have a lot of volunteers and they are really excited about showing people what Easter is all about.”

Andrea Mindling, who serves as the church’s director of connections, said guests should not be intimidated with the idea of attending a big Easter service.

The church is hoping hundreds of first-time guests will venture out for the 10:30 a.m. service.

In an effort to be as welcoming as possible, it has asked its members to park and take a shuttle so the athletic center’s parking can be reserved for guests.

There will be child care for youngsters up to age 5 in the Academy Center, adjacent to the fieldhouse. Kid packs will be given to the older kids who are seated in the service. Before and after the service kids’ activities are planned that include an inflatable bounce house.

“We are bringing everything in with us that we need,” Mindling said. “(Easter) Sunday will be awesome.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.