After 10 years, Bev Mahr's prayer for an Evangelical Free Church in Joliet was answered with the planting of Three Rivers Church in 1996. She also had the honor of becoming the first member of the church.
The first public meeting of Three Rivers Evangelical Free Church was held on Oct. 6, 1996 in the Hufford Junior High School auditorium in Joliet. The preparations for the new church began in the spring that year, after the Naperville Evangelical Free Church and its daughter church, New Song Evangelical Free Church in Bolingbrook chose, Dr. Clement G. Walchshauser to be the pastor.
He and his wife, Anne, came from a church in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, with three of their four children, Christi, Julie and Nicci. Their son Jeff, was an officer in the U.S. Army, stationed in Texas, at the time.
The initial Sunday worship of the core group was with the New Song Church in late spring, followed by Saturday evening meetings in the summer at the home of Brian and Gina Sampson in Plainfield Township on the west side of Joliet. Several couples also came with the Walchahsusers from the Wisconsin church. They had been challenged to consider being part of the church plant. Three of the families decided later that summer to make the move to the Joliet area-Larry and Rhonda Voss, Kevin and Marilyn Bosma and Herb and Carrol Moering. After a Sunday of worship for those who were part of the church plant effort, the public was invited the following Sunday, with approximately 200 people in attendance. Many of them came from the Naperville and New Song churches to encourage the new church's congregation.
A church office was established at the New Song church, which had acquired a public school building. Early in 1997 Carrol Moering became the temporary office secretary to assist Pastor Walchshauser in the duties of preparing for the weekly church services. Bob Farnham was the financial secretary almost from the start of the church.
Mark Hladish and his wife, Kim, came from Walworth, Wisconsin, each weekend to lead the music worship times for one year. He was succeeded by Phil Dunne and then in the spring of 2000 by Eric Fornelli, a 19-year-old college student with a heart for the Lord's work.
A learning center has been part of Three Rivers Church since the beginning, with Anne Walchshauser coordinating the Sunday school experiences of children from nursery through fifth grade for the first few years. The Moerings were in charge of junior high students and Kevin and Bev Mahr, the senior high youth. The first elders in the church included Pastor Walchshauser, Brian Sampson, Paul Dean and Larry Voss.
In the fall of 1999 the "church in a box on wheels" moved from Hufford to Timber Ridge Middle School that was centrally located in the west Joliet-Plainfield target area. The move to the newer facility and its location appears to have been a catalyst for an accelerated growth in people attending and coming to visit. It has helped to meet the intent of a seeker-sensitive church to attract unchurched individuals or people who had an interest in spiritual matters.
After years of seaching for the best plot of land, Three Rivers Church finally purchased a wonderful, 36-acre piece of property right on Route 59 and the Dupage river. Though it would be several years later when they would finally break ground the land was immediately put to use. Picnics, campouts, youth group events, and other activities were hosted on the beautiful piece of God-given property. Later on, a military-grade tent was set up as a prayer tent for members to use even through the winter months! This attracted lots of attention and curiosity within the community. In addition, a stilt house was erected in the woods overlooking the river. This structure is used for prayer, meetings, campouts, and a place of solitude for the church members.
In 2008 Three Rivers Church broke ground and with the help of many volunteers completed phase 1 of the building project during the spring of the following year. The first worship service in the new building was May 17, 2009.
The church views itself as a series of concentric circles with the aim to encourage people to move from the largest circle to the smallest one in the center. The largest circle represents the community. Next smaller circle is the crowd that attends church on a given Sunday. Next would be the congregation (members), followed by the committed, and finally the smallest is the core group.