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Church Plant Thrives in Dechurched Suburb

LIFEchurch north of Iowa City reverses trend, becomes a mission-sending congregation.

LIFEchurch in North Liberty, Iowa, holds three services every Sunday morning at a renovated Wonder Bread store with 39 parking spaces.

Even then, it's a tight squeeze for a congregation that numbers 500 and growing. 

"People park everywhere," says Senior Pastor Rich G. Greene. "They park in the street, they park at the gas station next door, they park across the street, and at a bank that's a block away." 

For Greene and the church, this is a good problem to have. Over the years, churches have had a hard time surviving in the suburbs of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Cedar Rapids, a city less than 20 miles to the north, was named the fifth-least "Bible-minded" city in a 2015 study by Barna Group, a classification Greene believes fits Iowa City even better. 

But with a strategic mission to reach the spiritually needy community outside its walls, the nine-year-old church plant is bucking the statistical trend. 

Greene and his wife, Christi, spent nine years in Bangladesh as Assemblies of God world missionaries before moving to Iowa with the vision of planting a church. As he looked at the demographic of his area, Greene realized many of the people were "dechurched" - people who had tried Christianity at one point but walked away from the faith. 

To appeal to the likely skeptical people walking through the doors, Greene decided to gear his messages toward those who are disconnected from God. He followed the model of Jesus' ministry in adopting a relatable style of speaking. 

"Jesus didn't walk this planet looking like an alien," Greene says. "He looked like a Jew with a beard and wore robes and sandals like everybody else. There was an identification that He had with humans, and we try to do the same thing." 

Such an ability to relate stood out to 27-year-old Brian Jungen when he first heard Greene preach a year ago. 

"You can tell that sincerity when you listen to him," Jungen says. 

He grew up attending a Christian school, but then let his relationship with Christ dissipate. When he started attending LIFEchurch he still felt bitterness toward churches - and God. Jungen joined a nine-week class at LIFEchurch called "Living Free" designed to help attendees work through unhealthy behaviors, relationships, and addictions. 

"Immediately I was talking to a group of people," he says. "I felt like I was supposed to be there." 

Now, Jungen co-leads the course, ministering to others working through similar struggles.  

LIFEchurch launched in 2005 in a recreation center in Coralville, another suburb of Iowa City. At the end of the first year, LIFEchurch numbered about 50, and Greene began arranging the congregation's first large-scale outreach service project to the community. That strategy has continued to be part of the church's mission as the number of attendees has increased with the move to the more-northern suburb of North Liberty. 

"Missions has really been a big part of our DNA from the very beginning," Greene says. "We're convinced that God has placed this local church in this community for a bigger reason than just having a church, but for really impacting our community." 

Today, LIFEchurch conducts an annual back-to-school outreach, where the congregation provides school supplies, haircuts, and other services to local families. Each year, the church also provides Thanksgiving dinners to low-income areas in the community. 

LIFEchurch strongly emphasizes foreign missions as well. In nine years, four missionary families have emerged from the congregation. 

Soon, LIFEchurch will move to a larger venue in Coralville. And, in a few years, the congregation plans to build a new campus on 29 acres already purchased. 

As LIFEchurch continues to grow, Greene's vision is to see the "least Bible-minded" stigma dramatically decline.  


Ian Richardson

Ian Richardson is a 2014 graduate of Evangel University and former intern with the Pentecostal Evangel. He is originally from Afton, Iowa, where he grew up as the son of an Assemblies of God pastor.