The Chapel

Church Trip: Secret to Growth

The secret to big churches isn’t brain surgery: great preaching, great music and a great location usually produces big congregations. The Chapel in Buffalo, NY is a prime example.

I was teaching at the Christian Musician Summit with the National Praise and Worship Institute this past weekend, and stayed over to attend one of their services.

Just what is going on in the spiritually dead north? The Spirit is moving and the Chapel is booming in a predominantly Catholic area (a person who attends told me a large percentage of the church is made up of former Catholics.) Their enormous building, which could probably hangar a few space shuttles, sits in a prime location right off a highway within an office park. The modern sanctuary seats 2,200. The office park provides plenty of additional parking if needed as the adjacent businesses aren’t active on the weekend. Read a news story about their new building.

Two services can’t accommodate the crowds so a simultaneous satellite service is held in their East Worship Center for overflow (seating around 450.) Satellite services with video preaching and a live band are nothing new, but the Chapel is doing something I haven’t seen before – both bands in both rooms play from the same click. This allows them to perform the neat trick of having a worship leader sing live in one room while their image and vocals are broadcast in the other room. In other words, while in the main auditorium I heard the live band accompany a worship leader in the East Worship Center while watching his image broadcast on the screen.

The music was excellent and one of the female vocalists who led was outstanding. I didn’t recognize a single song that morning – a typical problem which I addressed a few weeks ago. Even so, I had the impression that the worship wasn’t a performance but a heartfelt, spiritual experience – something I don’t feel in a lot of megachurches. Their camera jib added a professional sense of motion to their projection.

I loved the preacher. Pastor Jerry Gillis is a great communicator: he’s witty and practical yet still preaches the Word – there was no watered down message in that sermon.

I’ve always heard a new contemporary church should be no more than two turns off a major highway for easiest accessibility. The Chapel follows that rule, but the location part of their success equation is more than just their immediate position in Buffalo – I think it’s the fact that they’re even in Buffalo.

Last week I talked about church over saturation. If the Chapel had been planted in Greenville, SC, they’d probably be a tenth of their size (currently around 5,000.) Putting a contemporary-style church in a spiritually needy and unsaturated area like Buffalo is one of the fastest paths to church growth – and spreading the Gospel.


Essential reading for worship leaders since 2002.


Get the latest worship news, ideas and a list

of the top CCLI songs delivered every Tuesday... for FREE!