Dan Steffen didn’t ask to be Senior Pastor of Pure Heart Church in Glendale, Arizona that more than 5,000 people now call their church home.
In January 2000, Dan arrived at the church as part of a planting movement, but five years later he still had not been sent out to plant a church. Then Pure Heart began to experience hardships.
“Our founding pastor was asked to resign,” Dan said.
Additionally, their nearly 10-acre church campus, which had been recently purchased prior to the pastor’s resignation, was located in a declining area.
“Back in the ’80s, it had been a megachurch,” Dan explained. “It had about 3,000 people, and it had gone down to about 50 people when we bought it. The campus was a disaster. All of the homes across the street, the property values were knocked about $10,000 down because of how bad the property looked.”
It was in the midst of Pure Heart’s uncertain future that they asked Dan to become Senior Pastor.
Dan Steffen, Senior Pastor of Pure Heart Church
Fixing Up a Campus
As Dan stepped out on faith and began to lead Pure Heart, he leaned on the Lord.
“I was a younger man then, in my mid-30s, with no senior pastor experience,” noted Dan. “I was just hoping to plant, but that wasn’t God’s plan. It took us about a year to get settled in, and we lost quite a few people during that time.”
The first item on Dan’s agenda was simply fixing up the Pure Heart campus, which including replacing 90% of the sidewalks.
“The campus was so bad we couldn’t even use the sanctuary,” remembered Dan. “It was in such bad shape we transformed the gym into a sanctuary and started meeting and worshiping in there.”
But three years later, in 2008, things had changed.
“All of a sudden we started growing,” Dan said. “Finally one of my board members came to me and said, ‘We need to think about a new auditorium.’ We were up to four services in the gym.”
Despite facing the financial crisis in 2008, Pure Heart launched a building campaign enabling the church to construct a new auditorium, which seats roughly 1150 people.
“We moved in there in 2010, and the church just kept taking off. By that point we had tripled in size.”
Connecting With the Community
Other than “Jesus and His Spirit moving on the hearts of people and empowering us,” Dan said he believes Pure Heart’s unexpected growth can be traced back to its purposeful connection to the community in which it is located.
“There’s a question that we ask at the church that is our guiding question: If we were gone tomorrow, would our community miss us? I read a book 10 years ago called The Hole in Our Gospel. It talked about how we step over the hurting in our own backyard to go around the world in missions.”
As result of answering this question, church members began volunteering at the nearby Sunburst Elementary School.
“I remember the first day we showed up; we had about 100 volunteers and the principal didn’t know what to do with us at first. But we scraped gum off the tables, pulled staples out of walls. The next service day we went back in. We painted curbing. We remodeled a bathroom.”
Other churches wanted to participate in their own neighborhood schools in a similar fashion. Pure Heart became a leader of a wave of volunteerism.
“We decided to be more intentional with this movement and kind of separate it out from being a Pure Heart thing. So we gave it to the city, and we made it a 501(c)(3) about five years ago. School Connect has gone national in six different cities.”
Roughly 10 years after Pure Heart members began volunteering at the school, the School Connect program now includes approximately 500 schools in 55 school districts, with 300 churches providing over 20,000 volunteers a year.
Pure Heart has also been serving its community for years through a food pantry. With every food box that is given, people receive a consultation with a professional in varied areas who can help with job training, health and other critical areas.
“We had a lady who was living in her car down the street from us,” Dan recalled. “We found a job for her, and now she has her own apartment. She is a single mom and her daughter is doing well, thriving in one of our local schools.”
As a result of Pure Heart’s connection to its community, the church discovered that addiction has saturated the area. So they created a relationship with Crossroads, a residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment program.
“Crossroads is one of the largest, private bed recovery centers in the country and so we’re now remodeling one of our buildings to become an intake center for Crossroads.”
Improving for the Children
Despite the church’s growth and community impact, there was one area that was stagnant.
“We had a lot of families who would visit, and they loved our mission and our passion, but their kids just weren’t connecting,” Dan said. “So they would just go on down to the road to a church where the kids connected more.”
Dan admitted the church’s children facility was “not a great environment,” particularly after their new auditorium was constructed.
“We tried bringing in new carpet, paint. But everything we tried, it just didn’t compare to the new auditorium for the adults. The auditorium for the adults was state of the art, but in the children’s facility was like you went back in a time machine.”
As they had experienced before, Pure Heart’s location posed a problem.
“Because we were in an older neighborhood, our property wasn’t appraising for what we needed it to appraise for to work with some of the banks,” said Dan.
So the Pure Heart leadership began looking elsewhere and learned about CDF Capital.
“CDF was willing to come in and step out on faith with us. And we’re eternally grateful for that.”
Through Pure Heart Church’s partnership with CDF Capital, they built a 28,000-square-foot children’s center and additional parking. They had a grand opening in November 2018.
“It’s beyond anything that we’ve ever dreamed of or imagined as a church. We had no idea how much Pure Heart would thrive.” —Dan Steffen
“There’s a slide that goes from the top floor from the worship area down to the lobby, which is the coolest thing ever,” Dan said. “Our children’s ministry has already grown by 30%, and that was just in the first four months. “
Now Pure Heart is expanding to another location. Dan once served as a youth minister at Palm Valley Christian Church, which became Paseo Verde Christian Church. Paseo Verde had been in decline for a while and decided to close its doors. After an elder from Paseo Verde visited Pure Heart, he contacted Dan days later and asked, “Would Pure Heart be interested in another campus? We would like to talk to you about giving you our campus.”
The new Pure Heart location will officially open its doors in October 2019.
“It’s hard in Phoenix to promote anything in the summer because no one wants to be here in the summer,” Dan said with a laugh. So fall is their target opening date.
Being Vulnerable as a Team
Dan has had several opportunities to see God’s church flourish, even when he started as a youth minister at Palm Valley Christian Church, where he grew the group from 3 students to about 150. Yet he has faced challenges in his personal life along the way.
“My first wife left me for another man,” Dan said. However, he eventually remarried. “My wife’s name is Nicole Perrotti. A beautiful Italian lady. We have three kids.”
Because of Dan’s story, it has enabled him to build a strong team at Pure Heart that relies upon one another.
“I’m very vulnerable with my story about divorce and remarriage, and because of that, our staff is vulnerable with their stories,” said Dan. “I think when it comes to the health of a team, when you create an environment of vulnerability and honesty, people don’t have to hide.”
In fact, Pure Heart’s staff includes Christian counselors who are available to other staff members.
“Ministry is difficult,” Dan acknowledged. “And our mission is a very difficult mission. With counseling and care and restoration, instead of people being another statistic of burnout, they’re back involved in ministry.”
It also helps that the ministry team likes each other.
“We say all of the time, it’s not just what we do in ministry, it’s who we do ministry with.”
Though Dan didn’t ask to be Pure Heart Church’s Senior Pastor years ago, he has been amazed by what God has done through the church.
“It’s beyond anything that we’ve ever dreamed of or imagined as a church. With all of the churches in the area in a decline and a campus that was a disaster, quite honestly our goal was just to have a viable church there and for Pure Heart to survive. We had no idea how much it would thrive.”
By being the hands and feet of Jesus, week after week, year after year, Pure Heart Church continues to transform their community for the Kingdom.
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