KINDRED, N.D. — Before now, on a typical Sunday morning, the Kindred Elementary School gym would fall still and dark. Sounds of basketballs swooshing through nets and voices of school children at play would cease until Monday.
But this past weekend, a different scenario unfolded — as sound equipment, banners and chairs were hauled in to prepare for the first video-venue worship experience launched from Bethel Church in Fargo.
“Praise God, the kickoff went really well,” shares Sarah Moline, part of the core launch team, reporting that 104 people gathered at the gym Easter Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, with the same sermon given in Fargo shared on a large screen by video with the Kindred group.
In the past, Sarah and her husband, Justin, and their four children would rise extra early Sunday to make the 30-minute trek to Fargo for church. From now on, the journey will be mere blocks.
“Our heart in this was to be a blessing to Kindred,” says Justin, an elder at Bethel, whose family joined three others for the launch. “This is where we live and are involved, and there’s no better place to carry out Bethel’s mission than right here.”
That mission, he says, is “to love God, love others and serve the world.” The idea was borne from the mind and heart of Bethel’s senior pastor, Andy Veith.
“Before I came to Bethel five years ago, I was a ‘church planter’ in Des Moines,” Veith says.
During his 16 years in Iowa, Veith says, he developed a passion for spreading the good news geographically, and a couple years ago, a group began meeting to explore expanding Bethel’s presence. Kindred kept resurfacing, he says, due to the number of families from there who’d been joining Fargo’s community for worship.
Four of them met about six months ago to discuss moving forward, Veith says, and from there, the Bethel Church Kindred Campus — the pilot site — took root. Bethel hopes to do the same elsewhere as the right circumstances arise.
The experience includes live music, in-person gathering, small-group discussions and “video teaching” from the main campus.
“We’re what you’d call the mother church, or main campus,” Veith explains. “We provide resources and training to get them to a point of being able to launch.”
But unlike a “church plant,” he says, a campus stays connected to the main church through its vision and teaching. “It’s what binds us at the hip.”
The campus site also tailors the experience to its community’s needs.
“On their end, it’s a tremendous amount of work,” Veith says. “When you meet at a public location, you have to set up and tear down every week.”
It should feel like you’re walking into a church, he notes. “It just happens to be in an elementary gym.”
Motivating words for the teams include “gather, groups and go,” Veith says, meaning gathering to worship, forming smaller groups to grow in discipleship, then serving the wider community.
Though the core team comprises four families, Veith says, they hope to bring other people into the fabric of that core as the community grows.
“We’re losing four amazing families that are going down there to start this campus, but that’s an incredible blessing for Kindred,” Veith says.
The Fargo community has helped through prayer, encouragement and contributing to a fund for Kindred’s sound system and trailer, he says.
“Every time I mention it on a Sunday morning in Fargo, we have an amazing response of people clapping.”
Justin says the effort has been God-directed. “We believe we’re being called into this, and if God’s leading in front of us, the work is all worth it.”
And because Easter Sunday tends to be a time when those who don’t attend church every Sunday return, it seemed to be the right time.
“In Christian circles, it’s a special day, so there’s no better day to get this started.”
Services begin at 10 a.m., with tables set up in the back to occupy children with coloring and other activities. Afterward, a time for “hanging out and connecting” over doughnuts and coffee takes place, Justin says, noting that everything concludes around 12:30 p.m.
Despite the enthusiasm over the planning and launch, he adds, there’s also been an element of grieving in leaving the Fargo community.
“We believe we’re fulfilling a call God has put on our hearts, so there’s that excitement of something new and fresh… but there’s also almost a mourning of losing your current church family, your friend circles, all of that.” COVID-19, however, helped prepare them.
“With being shut down, and still so many not coming back to church, there was already a bit of that tearing away happening.”
Still, God has put the pieces in place, he asserts, from providing a place to gather, to how welcoming the school has been. “It’s really an indicator of God going before us and preparing the way.”
Sarah says she’s witnessed God’s hand, too, including through his “raising up believers in that school district” who desire to know Christ more, and opening doors. Even before the core team started meeting, “there were pockets of people in Kindred who were saying, ‘…we need an evangelical church presence here,’ so, it’s all God, not just us.”
As part of the outreach, Sarah will be doing follow-up as more people take an interest in the campus, firstly, by sharing the Gospel in a relational way.
“We don’t want to come on too hot and heavy,” she says, “but also, to not be ashamed of the Gospel.”
This might include visiting people, dropping off welcome gifts and invitations for further connection. “It’s not just about going to church on Sunday,” she says, “but helping them connect with an authentic Christian community.”
Sarah agrees that God’s timing here has been perfect, as more people seem to be seeking solace in a disquieted world.
“We’re excited to share the truth of who Jesus is — and that he is the anchor for our souls,” she says. “We’re hoping the Lord has prepared people’s hearts to the point where, when they become part of this church and get connected, that would reflect the cry of their hearts — the hope they’re seeking.”
She requests prayers from the wider Christian community that their early efforts bear fruit.
“As we come out of this Easter season, may people be drawn to Jesus, knowing that he gave his life for us, and that when he was on the cross, he was thinking about you, and he desires a relationship with you, and ultimately, that he is our only true source of hope.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on April 9, 2021.]