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Ohio Ministry Network Supports Church Plants in Overlooked Communities

One of 75 church plants in the Ohio Ministry Network since 2018, Light City Church is an example that God can use small churches to do big things in their communities.
Church planting seeds can take years to germinate. Planting models, sizes, and locations vary. Yet, all successful plants tell inspiring stories of fierce faith, toil, and holy grit.

Michele Norfus, 39, pastor of Light City Church (LCC) in Struthers, Ohio, launched LCC on Jan. 17, 2021 with her husband, Victor, 35. “We never felt like a cookie-cutter church,” she says. “And we don’t worry about our size, either.”

Victor Norfus, a local elementary school music teacher, co-pastors with his wife and leads the worship team and men’s ministry, and shares in the preaching.

However, Michele’s story unfurls much earlier when she was 11 years old and first sensed God calling to the ministry.

After graduating from high school in 2002 she volunteered for inner-city outreaches in Youngstown, Ohio, at Metro Assembly of God, a new church plant.

She joined Metro’s partnership with Heart Reach Neighborhood Ministries. It was a special time gaining experience with at-risk kids and teenagers in after school programs, adopt a block outreaches, VBS, bus ministry, and food donations.

Her commitment opened more responsibilities. She was named Metro AG’s kids pastor and family life pastor, while working bi-vocationally. She enrolled in the AG’s Berean School of the Bible, earning ministerial certification and licensing credentials. She also earned an associate degree of science in occupational therapy from Kent State University.

Praying diligently with her husband seeking the Lord’s guidance, she left Metro AG in 2019 after 15 years to pursue a new ministry calling – church planting. Metro’s lead pastor Cornell Jordan and the Ohio Ministry Network provided encouragement and financial aid.

“We felt the Lord definitely leading us to start a church from the ground up,” she says.

Al Yanno, director of the Ohio Church Multiplication Network (OCMN), suggested the couple consider launching a church in Warren, Ohio. They recruited a launch team and conducted Bible studies and music classes in Warren as they prepared for an online launch for Easter Sunday, 2020. Then COVID hit nationally, putting everything on hold.

In 2021, temporary space was rented for one year in an AMVETS building in Struthers. The space was utilized for launch team meetings and services.

Victor Norfus continued searching for a permanent location until God unveiled an opportunity in front of everyone’s eyes.

A Baptist church in Struthers had recently closed and became available for $50,000. The 3,900 square-foot building included a 150-seat sanctuary, classrooms, and a kitchen. Although repairs and renovations were necessary, it was a perfect fit.

The OCMN provided grant money for operating expenses and equipment, as well as helped secure a mortgage to purchase the property.

“Michele has the passion and talent to minister to lost and marginalized people in vulnerable situations,” Yanno, 57, says. “She and her husband are hardworking people who know the territory.”

Since 2018 when Yanno joined the Ohio Network, OCMN has planted 75 churches. He stresses the need to plant churches using different models, especially those in smaller cities like Struthers with 9,800 residents.

The city sits along the Mahoning River in the Rust Belt region of the Midwest, once a coal and steel producing behemoth, but in decline for decades. It has a 16.8% poverty rate.

Yanno endorses the necessity of opening smaller churches in under resourced and neglected communities. They not only serve as places of worship, but are outreach centers to change the culture for Jesus.

Light City Church officially opened on Christmas Eve, 2021.

“It was an amazing feeling having our own place and a real service with 40 people,” Norfus says.

She burns with compassion and a vision to repair and restore families.

The Norfus’ live in Struthers. They focus on building close relationships wherever they go; in the supermarket, on the street, during hospital visits, at town meetings, and during local events.

“We want every person we connect with to have an identity in Christ and be discipled,” she stresses.

LCC held its first free community dinner last year on Nov. 15, 2023, the week before Thanksgiving. The original planning called for serving 25 people until someone felt more food should be ordered. The surprising final count of 100 meals included 80 attending and 20 pickup meals.

Table cards informed the participants of a 30-minute presentation about the life of Christ that encouraged conversations. As a result, two people prayed to receive Christ.

Regular outreach dinners and other events are planned for 2024.

LCC is embedded in Struthers for the long term.

“The Holy Spirit has led us by speaking to our hearts and giving us visions and has empowered us to be creative and take leaps of faith that on paper make no sense,” Norfus says. “He has always been faithful to the call he has given us.”

Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.