Christian Retreat's Family Church celebrates 30-year anniversary.
Driving up Glory Way Boulevard onto Christian Retreat’s campus, a series of words on the road lead the way toward Family Church and the facility’s administrative offices — “Love,” “Joy,” “Peace,” “Patience,” and “Faithfulness,” among other “fruits of the spirit” as defined in the Bible.
The Rev. Phil Derstine smiled at their mention.
“Anything we can do to minister to people,” Phil Derstine said.
Derstine and his wife, Janette Derstine, have been involved at Christian Retreat, a 110-acre, year-round training and conference center since 1976, when as newlyweds they came to help Phil Derstine’s father, Gerald, in ministry. They began Family Church on Christian Retreat’s campus 30 years ago Easter Sunday, despite earlier vows they would never become pastors.
“We can’t see ourselves doing anything else now,” Phil Derstine said. “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle.”
The Derstines plan to use Family Church’s anniversary, and the pending erection of a cellular communication tower disguised as a cross on campus, as an opportunity to rebrand Family Church in the coming weeks with a new design and facility improvements (new paint and remodeled bathrooms, for example).
The church has about 600 regular attendees, and it receives that many or more regular visitors from all over the world. Family Church broadcasts regular church services every Sunday morning online, and an online pastor chats via the Internet directly with viewers during the service to offer prayer or discussion.
“We were finding a lot of millennials are not even looking for a church building,” Phil Derstine said of building an online congregation. “We want to accommodate that.”
Phil Derstine maintains a weekly television program, “Purpose for Life,” and has written several books, including one of daily devotionals.
Family Church offers “Family University” with age-appropriate classes every Wednesday night with a $3 dinner the hour beforehand.
The church is just one facet of the Derstines’ daily lives. They also run Christian Retreat, founded in 1968.
Joanne Derstine, Phil Derstine's sister, said Christian Retreat welcomes more than 60,000 people annually to its campus for church services, summer camps, training and events.
The Derstines have prepared Christian Retreat’s campus to be a shelter for the community, with backup generators and other features, if a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes the area. Five years, ago, Janette came up with the idea for Kingdom Courtyard, 10 boutique-style shops to benefit families in need. The shops, located in 10 repurposed guest rooms, open the first Sunday of the month to church members and guests, as well as by appointment.
Church members donate items for the boutique. Phil Derstine said it is a way to help teach them to freely give and receive.
“My interest in ministry is to help people apply God’s word to their daily lives,” Phil Derstine said. “I think church should help people live more productive lives on Earth and prepare them for eternity.”