Midwest Bible Church celebrated its 90th anniversary today, October 1. Founded in 1933, the church, here at the corner of North Cicero Avenue and Cornelia Street, has a long history of visionary ministry to the youth of Chicago and beyond. The founding of the church's two long-standing ministries, Phantom Ranch Bible Camp and Midwestern Christian Academy, are linked to that vision to reach, and disciple, young people for Christ, preparing them for their Great Commission calling and service.
The history of Midwest Bible Church is directly tied to the founding of the organization known as Youth for Christ International. Torrey Johnson, who was the founding pastor of Midwest Bible Church, was its first president, and its first evangelist was Billy Graham. Many people don't realize that Billy Graham's first sermon broadcast on the radio was preached in one of the rooms of the Gideon Building, which is now the pre-school building on our campus.
This vision for reaching and discipling young people, led to the church's decision to establish a camp ministry in 1956 at Phantom Ranch Bible Camp on Phantom Lake just outside Mukwonago, Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee. Each year, more than 5,000 children and youth are part of Bible camp experiences or retreats at Phantom Ranch. Just two years later, Midwestern Christian Academy was established on the church campus in northwest Chicago. Both ministries have been supported and sustained by Midwest Bible Church over the years, and the number of young people who have come to know Christ as their savior, and have grown into mature Christians finding their purpose in ministry is literally in the thousands.
Not only was Midwest Bible Church at the center of the formation of Youth for Christ International, but the church is the home of the second Awana chapter ever established, shortly after the ministry originated at nearby Northside Gospel Center. Awana still meets at Midwest Bible Church on Tuesday nights, and many of the students who participate are enrolled at Midwestern Christian Academy.
The commitment to Christian school as a ministry of the church, reaching young people is a strong one for Midwest Bible Church, coming as it does from the church's core values and its calling as a Christian body of believers. God has used this church to sustain the ministry of MCA, where students are engaged in study of God's word five days a week, and where discipleship as a believer is aimed at helping each student grow in their Christian faith, recognize the ministry to which God has called them to serve, and commit to following God's will with the foundation of skills they received while they were students here. There are no guarantees, but there are thousands of students who attended, and graduated from MCA who are following God's will for their lives and making an impact for Christ in a world that needs what they have to offer.
We are one of the oldest, continuously existing Christian schools in the city of Chicago. Among Christian schools established in the United States since the end of World War 2, the relationship between MCA and its founding and supporting congregation is a model of what Christian education could be, with a God-inspired vision of ministry. Most Christian schools in this country were started by groups of parents who saw the need for a place where their children could receive Christian discipleship alongside their education, rather than receiving education that undermined the things they were being taught in their church and home. Few churches, even those who do sponsor schools, do not make an investment beyond providing space for classes and a recruiting base for students.
But the investment of MBC in our school has sustained its existence. The past two younger generations have been leaving church and their Christian faith behind, over 80% of those raised in an Evangelical church during their childhood and high school years stop attending and participating during college, and either never make a profession of faith, or abandon their childhood practice, a figure which continues to increase. And a Christian school education isn't a guarantee that won't happen. But far fewer students, who attend a Christian school operated from an Evangelical perspective, will leave the church during college. In fact, what research has been done shows that 75% of the students who attend Christian school for at least five years of their elementary, middle or high school years, are much more likely to stay in the church than they are to leave it.
Midwest Bible Church and its ministry of Midwestern Christian Academy are proof that this can be done. And they are proof that God is in it, which is why it is succeeding.