Growing church in Indiana helps another in N. Carolina

Tithe of funds from expansion project helps immigrant congregation buy a building it had been renting

May 4, 2020 by and

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Growth at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., is benefiting a congregation 650 miles away.

When Assembly enlarged its facilities, it tithed a portion of the expenses to aid others.

A program called JoinHands, operated by Mennonite Men, helps churches that have the resources for major capital improvements share money with churches needing help buying or building a place to worship.

JoinHands has delivered grants to churches throughout the world and was the conduit to channel the Assembly tithe to Mara Christian Church, near Charlotte, N.C.

“We feel it’s the right thing to do, for more established congregations to help the newer ones,” said Steve Thomas, U.S. coordinator for Mennonite Men. The essence of the program is “congregations thinking beyond themselves.”

He figured Assembly would want to help other facility programs as it launched its own.

“It’s part of the DNA of the congregation” to tithe when starting an improvement project, said Lora Nafziger, Assembly pastor of Christian formation.

Spiritual vitality evident

Mara Christian Church, a growing congregation composed mostly of people who moved to the U.S. from Myanmar, now owns the building it had rented, thanks to the JoinHands grant.

Members of the North Carolina congregation are “thinking about their lives as people of God. The spiritual vitality there is good for others to see,” Thomas said.

He said they invested a good deal of “sweat equity” in renovating the church building.

Those who receive JoinHands grants “often are people without a history of power and privilege,” Thomas said. “Often, they’re people coming from a situation of real need.”

JoinHands is patterned after 2 Corinthians 8, in which Paul wrote about abundance and reciprocity. One church helping another “is an issue of stewardship, so it linked naturally to Everence,” Thomas said, referring to the stewardship agency that serves Anabaptists and others.

Everence church loans have helped several established churches, including Assembly, that shared some of the money associated with major projects to aid younger churches.

Bursting at the seams

Assembly needed to expand because Sunday morning attendance has grown by about 20 percent in the past 10 years. The facilities were no longer adequate. Attendance now averages about 230, and has climbed above 300 several times.

Nafziger said church members were talking about the need for an expansion when she arrived in 2013.

The room used for worship was the only room large enough for after-worship activities, so chairs had to be shifted around and tables set up. In other words, the sanctuary and fellowship hall were one and the same. An overflow seating area was filled to distant corners most services.

That room now is more of a true fellowship hall, as the more than 5,000-square-foot addition includes the new worship space.

Nafziger said more than 75 church people were involved in the project.

The congregation moved into its new spaces in May 2019 and dedicated the expansion in September.


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