By Jordan Dillon, Bethel University Extension Studies
What does a church do when they have Christian leadership development and multiplication in their ministry DNA, and they also have unused facility space during the weekdays?
They create an exponential solution. They create a new way to use their space as a way to fulfill their mission.
Nappanee Missionary Church, or NMC, has been located in rural northern Indiana for 35+ years. They have a regular attendance of 1500+. NMC is passionate about Christian leadership development and multiplication. In years past, NMC has developed a leadership residency program, called SOAR, and also an internship program. The goal of each of these was to develop Christian leaders for vocational church ministry and community service through a close-knit, mentored environment. Both residents and interns have specific roles and responsibilities. They also receive coaching and personal faith development, and are mentored and guided by experienced church staff, helping them reach their full potential. Both programs have been very successful. In fact NMC was having to turn down more applicants than they could accept.
However, there was more need and desire from young people in their community than NMC could facilitate at that time.
The Unused Facility Space
Nappanee has a diverse facility that is used for many different ministries of the church. There is an outdoor pavilion with a stone fireplace, a sanctuary that seats 700+, and a few residential houses on the property used for missionaries, as well as some leadership resident housing. Despite all of these well-used spaces, there was an area that had become mostly unused during the week. This space consisted of a main gathering room, some smaller breakout rooms and a kitchenette. In the past it had been used for some men’s and youth ministries, but both had moved to other areas. This left significant space unused and unoccupied during the weekdays.
This space was now open for innovation, for a new dream, and for more Christian leadership development with unlimited potential.
NMC is a church that stewards their property well and is also looking to the future, to what the church could be in 10-15 years.
The Solution: Bethel University Extensions
In 2020 Nappanee Missionary Church found the perfect way to bring together their mission for discipling and developing Christian leaders and utilize their unused space in one new platform. NMC partnered with Bethel University, a Christian university in Indiana, and became an extension site for the campus. NMC is one partner site in a network across nine states so far.
Nappanee Church now invites local students into their church building to pursue an accredited Christian-based university degree through this partnership.
While Nappanee loves the educational opportunity they can now provide, the practicum opportunity is where the NMC alignment really locks in. Students at the Nappanee site are in classes for their education, but are also given the opportunity to spend 8-10 hours per week in a practicum during their school semesters. The students receive the practical experience and growth related to their field of study in addition to their education from a private Christian institution. The church started with 14 students in their first year and anticipate another 10-15 for Fall of 2021. Nappanee has a new opportunity to host, mentor, guide, and launch Christian leaders.
NMC now has a continuing ministry pipeline in which to invite local students in for education and discipleship right in their own building. In the time of ever-increasing university tuition, NMC can offer an affordable, accredited option close to home, with mentored pastors they know and love.
Benefits for Everyone
Students love this experience for its close-knit community feel, affordability, and personal/spiritual development. One student was planning on attending a traditional private university, but the family financial situation changed. This student’s hopes were almost dashed, until NMC was able to offer this affordable alternative, which ended up being the perfect fit. Another student initially felt called to a business degree, but after realizing some of her gifts and passions, switched over to a ministry leadership track and is flourishing. Some students weren’t quite ready for the residency program at NMC, but were able to plug in to the university partnership. This allowed them to get some more education and experience first in a supported environment.
NMC now has an uninterrupted suite of ministries to engage their community, making and growing disciples at every age. They’re able to engage the college-aged demographic, training and equipping them, and will send them out to change and lead others for the Kingdom. NMC is able to empower their students in a low/no-debt college experience, giving them more financial stability and flexibility to pursue their calling.
It all started with a commitment to discipleship, an eye for innovation, and some empty ministry rooms during the week at the church.