With the mortgage on the first sanctuary paid off, new construction plans moved forward. In 1982, a second sanctuary (currently CenterPoint and the Great Room) and an office wing were completed. Steady growth soon became the hallmark of Rev. Joe McClure’s ministry here. Membership was 364 in 1983.
With more winter residents arriving each year, Bonita’s development also began to take off. The opening of Southwest Florida Regional Airport, the new US 41 bypass and the final stretch of I-75 South in the mid-’80s ushered in a significant land boom. But no matter how quickly the congregation grew, Joe always fostered a small-town atmosphere with his relaxed charm and warmth.
“People were touched by his honesty and forthrightness,” said longtime church member Judy Teasdale, “and they wanted to hear his words of comfort and love. Joe was fun-loving and lighthearted, with a special fondness for celebrating life through fellowship. He was a wonderful friend and a good shepherd to his flock.”
By 1986, more young families were relocating here and providing goods and services for the growing number of retired residents. Peak winter attendance often surpassed the 1,000 mark. It became clear that increased staffing, new programs and buildings to accommodate the growth were needed. Dr. Robert Abel (wife Linda) was called as our first associate pastor and served through 1993.
With membership steadily climbing toward 500, a 5-year long-range plan was developed for a new multi-purpose building and an expansion of the sanctuary to 800 seats. McClure Hall was the first to be completed in November of 1989; it included a large space for fellowship events, classrooms and a nursery. The hall was used as our worship space until the sanctuary renovations were completed in January 1990.
Under Joe’s leadership and with his ability to recruit a large and active volunteer force from the membership, First Church became active in the community. The church assisted with the staffing and facilities for local organizations such as the Literacy Council, Shots for Tots, AA support groups, and Meals on Wheels. The Concert Series was launched for the 1988-89 season, offering free musical performances open to the community. By the end of the decade, winter attendance exceeded 1,200.