This is Reno, Nevada. Half the population is single. The median age is 35 and the median salary is 42k. The gambling industry is the largest employer, with the majority of its business being conducted on weekends. Camping is year-round. Less than one in ten people attend a Protestant church.
Established in the 1860s, Reno was a resting point for those on their way to or returning from the Gold Rush. Later, it received the name "Sin City," because it hosted several legal brothels, was the scene of illegal underground gambling, and offered quick and easy divorces, according to the city's website.
Among all these facts, a new church has emerged communicating several things to its community: "We are not a typical church. Our services are casual, relevant, and relational. We use the communication media of our age. We believe God wants us to speak in the language of our culture." The church is called Discovery Fellowship. Mike Stewart, '93, is the pastor.
"When you invite someone to an event, you are laying your credibility on the line by extending the invitation," says Mike. "You are saying to them, 'I care about you and think you would have a better time doing this than whatever you were planning on doing.' Mike says that in a real sense God has invited him to start Discovery Fellowship in Reno and it is God who will see it grow as he desires and if he chooses. Discovery Fellowship was formed in April 2003 after Mike had served in a local church for some years. "Planting a church was not my idea," he says. "It was an invitation from God."
Within 90 days, 14,500 square feet of space was found for 14 cents a foot. With the going rate ten times that, Mike counts this as a lesson in God's faithfulness. The space is not typical, as it was built for a dot-com company that went under. Some amenities include a two-story rock climbing wall, basketball court, large cafeteria, shower/locker room facilities, two fire poles, sand volleyball pit, horseshoe pit, shuffleboard, adult-sized playground, two duck ponds, and walking trail. Ample classrooms were also part of the package. Now, the church has expanded to take up 25,000 square feet at the property.
"Jesus says that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others," Mike says. "To combat the loneliness in our community, we have designed a church that focuses on helping people develop a deep relationship with God and others." Part of the design is dedicating Tuesday evening as the time they come together for worship. "Because of the young nature of our community, the large employment base working on weekends, and the available leisure activities afforded by the natural surroundings of Reno, we knew that Sunday may not be the best day," says Mike. "However, Tuesday is one of the slowest nights in our community."
Discovery Fellowship is an example of a church analyzing their particular context and formulating their vision and structure around it. Mike Stewart credits his OBU experience as instilling the confidence to be instrumental to such endeavors. "I'm grateful to Paul Hammond and the School of Music staff for the education they provided and the setting in which they provided it. In addition, my time serving in campus ministries was extremely valuable in developing people skills and the ability to lead others. There's no way I am who I am today without the influence of OBU on my life."
For more information about the ministry of Discovery Fellowship, go to www.discoveryfellowship.org.