An Unexpected Gift
Have you heard the phrase, "God is never early, but always on time"? A nice little cliche that Christians like to use. Not sure how theologically grounded it is, but it came to my mind recently. A little history: Five years ago, Granger was meeting in one location and things were flying. We'd experienced 20 straight years of growth, the recession wasn't even being predicted yet, and we were beginning to contemplate becoming a multi-site church. By contemplate, I mean that we were having serious talks and debates on our senior team.
Around the same time, Tony Morgan and I were contacted by a group of leaders from St. Johns United Church of Christ in Elkhart, Indiana. Elkhart is a nearby community where we had considered starting a church site. St. Johns was diminishing in attendance and wondered about partnering with us to have a thriving church once again at their location. Ultimately they couldn't make anything happen at that time. The majority of their leaders were not in favor of joining up with us.
And honestly, we weren't ready yet either. We didn't know that at the time, but we had not yet embraced a multi-site philosophy, we didn't have a point leader, and we hadn't identified a core of Granger families committed to that area.
By 2008, we had finally launched the Elkhart site meeting at a movie theater in the downtown area. Six months later we moved to the RV Hall of Fame on the east side of Elkhart where the congregation has grown to around 300 attending each week. Early this year we started hearing of financial troubles at the RV Hall of Fame--which obviously concerned us. The possibility of them closing their doors was a topic on the nightly news for a few weeks. Prior to that we had not been looking for another location. But this news caused us to begin praying.
About 7 weeks ago, we were again approached by St. Johns United Church of Christ. After 122 years of ministry in Elkhart, they had made the decision to cease their weekly services and find another church that could use their building. As we talked to Richard Leib from St. Johns, we heard an amazing heart of generosity. They did not want to see the property sold and used for retail. They wanted to see a thriving local church having an impact in the community.
We asked, "Why Granger?" Few of them had ever attended a service. Many of them weren't excited about our style of ministry. But they had heard, over and over, of our good work in the community. They heard of our work in downtown South Bend and our efforts to feed the hungry and help the poor in Elkhart. They had seen hundreds of cars in the parking lot at our Granger campus as well as the Elkhart site--and they longed to see the same thing once again at St. Johns.
Last Tuesday the building and land of St. Johns was officially transferred to Granger Community Church. In essence, this is a donation worth $1.2 million that will enable us to build a 24/7/365 ministry outpost on the northeast side of Elkhart. On August 1st, we will begin transitioning the building for the Elkhart congregation that will begin meeting in their new home late this fall. You can read more here about the transition from Mark Waltz (pastor of the Elkhart congregation).
There is much work to be done--but we are sitting with our mouths open in amazement at the goodness of God which came at a time, and in a way, when we least expected it.