Shepherd Gate Church has only been in its current location four years, but it just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Like many area churches, it began elsewhere and moved around until it could build a home of its own.
BUT SENIOR pastor Dan Duis, who founded the church, has been with it from the start — and then some. Christian Assembly in Vienna planted Shepherd Gate, and Duis was a pastor for more than 11 years at Christian Assembly and has been at Shepherd Gate for 20 — a total of 31 1/2 years.
"Twenty years ago, we seemed to have more kids than adults and about 100 people altogether," he said. "Now, there are more adults than children and we have a congregation of 250 people or so."
Shepherd Gate held its first service, Jan. 26, 1986, at Floris Elementary. It later moved to Franklin Middle School and then to a rented space in Chantilly's Sullyfield Circle area, where it stayed for eight years. Then came a stint at Chantilly High before the new sanctuary opened in March 2002 on Pleasant Valley Road.
"On our cornerstone [at the start of construction] in 2000, we wrote our theme, 'Making Christ Known,' so we're an evangelical church," said Duis. "And our members want to be involved in the community around us and help serve it."
Shepherd Gate is a member of Western Fairfax Christian Ministries and supports the Good News Jail Ministry at Fairfax County's Adult Detention Center. And, said Duis, "We encourage our people to be involved individually, as well. For example, some work in nursing homes and with severely handicapped young adults."
Young people also receive mission training through the church. Five of them are now in Ghana and one just returned from helping to rebuild homes in Louisiana.
Most of Shepherd Gate's members come from Loudoun and Fairfax counties, since it sits right on the border. But other come from as far away as Culpeper, Warrenton, Springfield and Alexandria.
"There are lots of good churches and pastors in the area," said Duis. "Having been started as a mission church gave us a tremendous advantage because [our church] was planned, and we maintained our relationship with our sending church, but we're independent."
He said Shepherd Gate knew it had a mandate and a mission to the community it was sent to, and to the world beyond. "So it's a strong calling and there's a sense of the Divine in our ministry," said Duis. "And we began with an in-place mission focus to the world. At our first service, we made a mission offering to support ministries around the world — from Pakistan to Peru to Chile, Asia and Thailand."
ANOTHER SPECIAL feature of this church with deep roots is that, like their pastor, some of the members have relationships with each other that go back 31 years. Said Duis: "You see each other's children grow up in the church, and it's very much a part of their lives."
Since so many of the members already had experience with each other and knew each other's talents, Shepherd Gate didn't have to develop ministries and mission callings from scratch. They were already in place when it began because it came from an established church.
Of course, new people have joined the church. But now, said Duis, "We're starting to also see generations of families stay in this church." So it's not surprising then, that some of his fondest memories have to do with children.
"We always had summer camp for kids at our house in Loudoun, at Goose Creek," he said. "They went on hayrides, did horseback riding, went tubing and made crafts. The church retreats at Prince William Forest Park were fun, too."
On Jan. 29, he and his wife Scotti enjoyed food and fellowship at the 20th-anniversary luncheon at the church with members of the congregation. And it was easy to see that this, too, would also become a special memory for him.