The Dream: 1995
Holy Trinity began as a dream in the hearts of founding pastors David Helm and Jon Dennis to establish an expository, church-planting church in Chicago. In 1995, both pastors were prayerfully exploring what was next for their lives. Their conversations with each other often turned to church planting and the city of Chicago. Pastor Dennis began sharing with his wife Amy his sense of calling to the city. Meanwhile, during the spring of 1996 in a pivotal shaping experience, David and Lisa Helm lived in London and were active in St. Helens, a center-city church with a strong ministry to students, businesspeople, and internationals who lived and worked in the city. On August 11, 1996, a few weeks after the Helms returned from London, the two couples got together for dinner and covenanted to actively pursue planting a church in the city of Chicago.
The Core: 1998
By June 1998 a core group of 37 adults had relocated from suburban Chicagoland to launch Holy Trinity with a vision for ministering in five spheres: the world, the city, the neighborhood, the university, and the poor. Meeting in a small, dark, un-air-conditioned Gothic chapel across from the University of Chicago campus, the core group soon filled the chapel to capacity. The first few conversions from the neighborhood confirmed that God was at work.
Clarifying a Strategy: 1998–2001
In 1998 the elders of the church began exploring a strategy for church planting. During the summer of 2000 Pastors Helm and Dennis returned to London to attend a church-planting conference hosted by St. Helens. There they came into contact with leaders from missional urban church-planting congregations from London (Dick Lucas), Sydney (Philip Jensen), and New York (Tim Keller). By further exploring city-based models and studying the ministry of Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, the pastors became convinced that God was calling them to see Chicago transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the flight home from New York, Pastor Dennis sketched out an initial church-planting strategy that involved “planting in the heart of the city” (downtown) to “reach the soul” (the 77 neighborhoods).
Multi-site Ministry: 2001
In 2001, in response to Christ’s commands to serve the poor, Holy Trinity began Hope for Chicago, a mercy ministry designed to empower people to love and serve Chicago’s needy. In addition, we began a weekly outreach to business professionals in the Loop called Chicago Business Focus. In December 2002 we launched a second congregation, which met at the Embassy Suites hotel. From this core group of 35, the downtown congregation quickly grew to over 100 and relocated to new space.
The Antioch Concept: 2006
Still, despite Holy Trinity’s growth, something didn’t seem right. The pastors became convinced that Chicago could not adequately be reached without a multiracial pastoral team. As they studied the Scriptures further, they discovered that the greatest church-planting movement in history (Acts 13–28) began in a tiny, multiracial prayer meeting in the global-city church of Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Together the pastors developed a vision for “the Antioch concept,” a plan to build a pastoral team that reflected the diversity of Chicago in order to see God birth a church-planting movement. In September 2006 that dream began to take shape: Oscar Leiva (who met Christ in the youth ministry of Pastor Dennis) and Arthur Jackson (a friend of Pastor Helm and the Senior Pastor of Judson Baptist) were added to the pastoral team. With the additions of Tom Barrett and Joseph Kim, the pastoral team of six now represents the ethnic heritages of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America. Though the congregation of 350 is a far cry from the 37 mostly white members who comprised the initial core, we still have a long way to go in pursuing a multiracial community reflective of Chicago’s diverse population.
A Citywide Church: 2007-2009
In 2007-2009 through extraordinary events and in validation of Holy Trinity’s vision, God opened the possibility to expand from two congregations to four. Holy Trinity attendees now span the length of the city from Chatham (south) to Rogers Park (north) to Pilsen (west) with congregations in Hyde Park, Downtown, North Side, and the West Side.
The Future: Building a Church for the New City
As a gospel-centered church, we believe God is calling us to build a church for the new city, a city comprised of rich and poor; black, white, Latino, Asian, and Arab; center-city and inner-city. We don’t believe this vision will be accomplished through our own strength, but with a total reliance on God and in partnership with other congregations. Our aim is to spark a church-planting and community-renewal movement that spreads from Chicago to the great cities of the world, for God’s glory alone.