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Our History


A group of people from Grace Evangelical Mennonite Church in Morton, Illinois, are praying, planning and strategizing to begin a new church in the greater Peoria area. John Chaney is hired to lay the groundwork and lead the core group in planting the new church.


A unique telephone campaign, Phones For You, is launched. Over 32,000 calls are made. Through a special survey the name Northwoods Community Church is selected. The first service is held on March 25 at the Christian Center in North Peoria. The first 11 people are baptized on September 9. Due to a rapid increase in attendance, a second Sunday morning service is added on September 23. The tape ministry is started. The leadership team officially crafts the Northwoods Mission Statement: To make fully devoted followers of Christ out of unchurched people in the Peoria area.


As attendance grows, the need for connectedness becomes greater. A new ministry, the “Friend Connection” is created. Five young men start a group of young adults seeking a home church and accountability for their ministry. With 30 active members, what becomes Up-n-Out is born, the first sub-ministry. Attendance continues to grow. On May 5, Sunday services move to Notre Dame High School; Wednesday night New Community services remain at the Christian Center. After much research and study, 40 acres at the corner of Allen and Wilhelm Roads are identified. Northwoods raises $135,000 in eight weeks and pays cash for the land.


Final zoning approval is given for development of our 40 acres at Allen and Wilhelm now known as The Field of Dreams. The High School ministry kicks off with a Great America trip. Mark and Karen Heintzman become full-time, bridge-building missionaries to Slovenia under Northwoods' support.


As attendance continues to climb on Sundays, the search begins for a larger meeting place. Northwoods spends the summer months in the Notre Dame cafeteria. Several support groups are formed, which serve as another avenue to bring people into the church. The former Jay’s Truck Driving School at 8919 North University is purchased to become Northwoods interim facility until the 40 acres is developed for permanent use. In July, the renovation and transformation of the Truck Dock begins! On September 19, services are first held in the Truck Dock.


First Board of Elders and Board of Directors are selected. GEMS Women’s Ministry is formed. GENTS Men’s Ministry is formed. Single Vision, a ministry for singles ages 30 and over, is solidified. Mainstreet Ministries, which includes parking, ushers, counters, Information Center, Foundations Resource Center, and the Community Room are established. Staff offices move to the Mordue Building as Discoveryland and nurseries continue to grow and need more space.


Organizational structure of staff is implemented. Field of Dreams Team moves forward in developing a master plan for the 40-acre campus.


Design of Phase I goes through several revisions until a $4,000,000 project is devised. Northwoods 101-401 classes move people from attending to becoming fully participating members of the church. In the spring, a third weekend service is started on Saturday to accommodate our continuing growth. Baptisms hit an all-time high of 86.


The Groundbreaking Ceremony is held at the Field of Dreams on March 8. The Truck Dock is sold in June more quickly than was anticipated. Northwoods moves into PARC, a temporary location, from September through November, until Phase I is complete. Our first weekend services at 10700 North Allen Road are held on November 29-30 with attendance of 2,148. Baptisms hit a record high with 98 people being baptized.


Due to the increase in attendance and traffic congestion, the parking lot expansion is started immediately in the spring. This is the first year to baptize over 100 people.


In May, an additional 19 acres is purchased to allow for future development and growth. From September through November, the Journey Continues Campaign raises nearly $7,000,000 in faith commitments toward an $8,900,000 project. Celebration Sunday is held on November 14 at the Civic Center with 2,600 people in attendance.


With the celebration of our tenth anniversary, A Decade of Difference is held on March 22-26 with a Concert of Worship, featuring The Dove Brothers, Smalltown Poets, Celebration Services, and the Soul Children of Chicago. On March 26 a Groundbreaking Ceremony is held for Phase II Development. SAM, Senior Adult Ministry, is started for the older and wiser ones of Northwoods. Over 5,000 people attend our first Christmas Production. Over 220 people indicate decisions for Christ. Baptisms reach a high of 122.


Celebrate Recovery kicks off with a Friday night gathering to help people recover from addictions. The new Infant Suite is opened in mid-March due to the continued growth in the Children’s Department. Increase in volunteers throughout all of the ministries is one of the highest priorities as we anticipate opening our new facility. On September 12, Northwoods enjoys the first weekend in the new auditorium with an attendance of 3,382. Dedication of the Auditorium features keynote speaker Dr. John Maxwell.


A community-wide service commemorates anniversary of September 11 attacks. Northwoods begins a season of leadership restructuring and realignment.


Children’s ministry continues to grow and develop new curriculum. The Board of Directors moves forward with the Children’s Creative Arts Center and Atrium. The Press On! campaign leads to over $8,000,000 in faith commitments.


Congregation experiences Extreme Makeover weekend series as Senior Pastor Cal Rychener introduces the compass symbol and the life transformation guide that it represents. Hundreds stream over a bridge constructed on stage to indicate their decision to embrace Jesus Christ as leader of their lives. New logo and tagline “Here to help you…find your way” adopted to reinforce commitment to helping people experience lives of full devotion. More than 7,000 people attend Joy Christmas production which includes amazing performances and even ice skating on stage.


Northwoods celebrates its 15th Anniversary March 16–20 with guests Jeff Allen, The Kingsmen, Lincoln Brewster, Kidz Blitz, and Ballet Magnificat. The Atrium is christened on March 16 and new children’s facility opens May 7-8. Partnering with Solid Rock Missions, Northwoods assists with several work projects, leadership training, and stewardship development in the Dominican Republic. Willow Creek Association asks Northwoods to help take the Leadership Summit to Brazil, and 1,542 pastors, lay and business leaders attended the Global Leadership Summit in Brazil. Over 10,000 people attend Believe at Northwoods during the Christmas season.


Discoveryland reaches out to Brazil and trains nearly 2,000 children’s ministry volunteers. Northwoods assists two local churches in San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic, with stewardship campaigns. Lincoln Brewster surprises our Northwoods volunteers with a concert! GroupLink connected 305 people into 54 new small groups! 11,533 people are inspired by the Christmas production.


Almost 100 people make commitments during first lake baptism. Volunteers at Northwoods number well over 1,400 people!


Individuals and families give 20 tons of food to South Side Mission. Operation Christmas Child receives 2,400 Christmas boxes form Northwoods attendees. The Global Leadership Summit in Brazil grows to eight cities. Northwoods celebrates its 18th anniversary with special guest Michael Franzese. It's the highest weekend attendance ever at 6,357 people! 1,030 people indicate a decision to receive Christ by taking a “Yes!” packet. Christmas is Here! blesses 11,800 in attendance with 332 people making a commitment to follow Christ.


January kicks off with first 21-day fast as the Northwoods family seeks God for “Real Change.” One Prayer series brings together Northwoods with Riverside Community Church, St. Paul Baptist Church, and Richwoods Christian Church. Love & Respect Conference attracts more than 2,400 to hear Peoria native Dr. Emerson Eggerichs teach powerful marriage principles.


Turning Twenty Anniversary Celebration held at the Peoria Civic Center. Unstoppable series brings together Northwoods with Riverside Community Church, St. Paul Baptist Church, and Richwoods Christian Church for an exciting day of serving the people of the community.


Northwoods ministry expands into Galesburg as the first multi-site campus launches there on Easter weekend. Hundreds pack the new facility that features live local worship teams and teaching via high-definition video. God answers specific prayer as 300 individuals step forward to be baptized in August. Across both campuses, over 70 percent of the Northwoods family engages financially in The 15:8 Project to expand ministry facilities in Peoria, including the addition of the auditorium balcony, updated student ministry space, Prayer Tower, and chapel.


Galesburg Campus expands to second service as attendence booms. The Re:New Thrift Store & Benevolence Center opens in Galesburg to the public. Hundreds of volunteers from Northwoods and other area churches partner together for 30 Days of Impact, serving a variety of needs throughout Peoria and Galesburg areas, including the collection of more than 78,000 pounds of food for area ministries. A praise & worship service marks official dedication of Peoria Campus Student Ministry Center and is the the first completed component of The 15:8 Project. The number of people taking the next step of baptism reaches nearly 500, and more than 480 "Yes!" Packets are distributed to new believers. For the first time, Northwoods offers Freedom Ministry classes and events designed to help people disconnect from old wounds and discover the whole life Jesus promises. Thousands attend special weekend with returning guest and former mafia boss Michael Franzese. Northwoods experiences an incredible, historic moment with Palestinian Tass Saada and Messianic Pastor Tony Sperandeo together, and constitutional historian David Barton reminds us of our nation’s great Christian heritage. The year wraps up with nine performances of another spectacular Christmas Production, attracting thousands and thousands to hear the truth about that holy night!
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