Photo: GPS Faith Community
There are no stained-glass windows or a big church sign with the ELCA brandmark.
But what you’ll find inside on Sunday mornings is vintage Lutheran — once you’ve made your way past the movie posters and the popcorn machine.
GPS (short for God’s People Serving) worships each week in a local movie theater. The unexpected setting is part of the appeal for many of the congregation’s members.
“We have a lot of (people) getting involved here who otherwise wouldn’t have stepped foot in a traditional church building,” said Rob James, pastor.
GPS wants to be a different kind of worship experience. For the more than 200 people who show up on Sundays, GPS is a place “where the lattes are optional, the atmosphere comfortable, the music admittedly loud and the people passionately reach out to the community with Jesus’ love.”
Even without the traditional symbols and trappings of a typical congregation, it’s clear that the Holy Spirit is at work.
This is a congregation whose members are eager to roll up their sleeves and put their faith to work. For example, GPS currently hosts 10 mobile food pantries, each of which provides a hot meal and a box of food to 350 families.
Being active and visible in the Rockford area also gets people through those theater doors, notes Pastor Rob. In fact, it was after GPS stepped out into the community that attendance really took off.
“We have seen a great number of people connect through our food pantry ministry, both guests and the more than 50 volunteers who are invited to help serve,” he says.
“Being a Christian is a Living Thing”
There have been a few surprises along the way. You can always plan on that with a new congregation.
At first, Pastor Rob thought that the casual setting and focus on service would appeal to young adults in their 20s. And yes, you’ll see them here on Sundays.
But the congregation also welcomes people in their 80s and young families with babies. And it’s increasingly clear that GPS has a particular ministry to men ages 18 to 45.
“GPS has impacted my life immeasurably. I am reminded that God is good and has a plan and purpose for each of us,” says member Bob Wilson. “I also see that being a Christian is a living thing and not a once-a-week on Sunday thing. Thank God for GPS.”
A high school student, who started playing drums in the GPS worship band, says, “GPS changed my life and helped me grow as a person. I didn’t know much about God or church, and I was curious. I have experienced hard times in high school and GPS helped me through them.”
The congregation was planted by neighboring Grace Lutheran Church in 2006 and, with Grace’s blessing, was organized as an ELCA congregation in May 2010.
Grace was instrumental in getting GPS off the ground in the early months. The congregation offered prayers and financial advice, lent office space, filled seats on Sunday morning and recruited volunteers.
Four years into their ministry, Pastor Rob concludes, “We have a deep passion for reaching out to meet our neighbors, to build relationships and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in our community. As this happens, our worshiping community continues to grow.”
The refrain of a familiar hymn comes to mind when describing this very new kind of church: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Indeed.