Monday, January 14, 2013

What is The Gem?

Many of you have expressed interest in The Gem. That's where we go to church, where we work out, and where our kids play. It's kind of a hybrid between the YMCA and a traditional church. In order to help explain it, I'll tell you their story as I understand it.

Once upon a time there was a church in the city who lost its parking space to development. The leaders of the congregation knew something had to be done so they decided to find another location with more room. The city was out of the question because prices were on the rise. They prayed for God's guidance and He showed them a place for sale out in the country. It was a piece of land on a highway between two small, but developing towns. There were two buildings which included an auditorium, an indoor swimming pool, and a full-sized gymnasium. There was also a neat, old house with lots of windows and hard wood floors. The property offered plenty of space and potential so they sold their building in the city and bought it. The church agreed to make the drive and continue to meet together, which they did in the auditorium. It was a sacrifice but at least they had the space they needed to fellowship and grow.

The leaders went to the chamber of commerce to introduce themselves and to ask about the specific needs of the community. They were told that the property they had purchased used to be a recreational center and it was a great loss to the community when it closed down. Because the church wanted to be of service, they agreed to reopen the rec. center. They connected the old house to the main building by constructing a concourse between the two. The door to that concourse became the main entrance. They converted closets to child care rooms, filled the pool, bought gym equipment, and added air conditioning to the gymnasium. They started selling low-cost memberships and opened their doors to the public, all the while still meeting as a church in the auditorium on Sunday mornings for worship and Wednesday evenings for Bible study.

When John and I moved to town, we heard about the local gym and went in for a tour. We ended up joining for exercise and church. The kids take weekly art classes and they've been in two plays produced by the theater group. Sometimes we get a workout in on a Wednesday evening then head into the auditorium to join the church for a meal. Currently, The Gem is hosting their own version of the Biggest Loser competition. Sunday mornings they have a worship service and Bible study then hundreds of locals stream in for weigh-ins and work-outs related to the competition. At the end of the day, the church and the community are getting to know each other on a relational level. Each week we welcome new faces into the church--faces of people we met in the weight room or at the pool. It's a beautifully organic establishment addressing the question of how to introduce Jesus to a world who has no interest in religion, because it's not religion but relationship.

Last year The Gem baptized twelve people. Those twelve people live within minutes of countless other churches but, because they belonged to that demographic that has no intention of ever going to church, they were falling through the cracks. They came to The Gem for recreation and community and got more than they expected. Even in the Bible belt--or should I say especially in the Bible belt--this type of church is needed. They recognized the need for a place where non-church goers could fellowship with Christians without the pressures of religion. We hope to see more like it in the future.

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