In 2020, Bethlehem, an exploratory mission in Richland Center, Wis., was looking for a ministry space to call home. After one option fell through, God provided a perfect fit: a former elementary school that had just come on the market.
The building was more than just a former school. It was also home to a crucial community service: a county-run program that provides hot meals each week to senior adults. Daniel Lewig, pastor at Bethlehem, said it wasn’t even a question as to whether the congregation would continue to house the meal program. “We didn’t just purchase a facility,” says Lewig. “We got a ministry right along with it—and an open door to see where God leads.”
Supported by offerings and a pandemic relief grant from WELS Christian Aid and Relief, Bethlehem members went to work upgrading the former classroom in which the meals are served. They replaced flooring, painted walls, installed an electric fireplace, and purchased round tables and tablecloths. The welcoming space encourages conversation and connections.
The revitalized dining area is so much more than a place to provide a hot meal. It also serves as Bethlehem’s fellowship hall, and seniors from the community are invited to all church activities. In addition, Lewig visits with guests each week and leads them in prayer. Bethlehem members help serve the meals or simply spend time getting to know their neighbors. “It’s not the food that brings them together,” Lewig says. “It’s the connection. Our members help with that connection and connect it to a higher purpose. We created an environment where you’re not just eating a meal for a day but a meal for eternity.”
Bethlehem plans to apply for a new Community Care & Compassion matching grant through WELS Christian Aid and Relief (see sidebar) to offer even more fellowship opportunities—like dinners and movie nights—for local seniors during the evenings.
Once seniors are in the building, it’s a natural progression to introduce them to the renovated worship space in the gym. Lewig knows that one of the biggest hurdles to outreach is simply getting people through the door. “Through the meal program, they are already here!” he says. “As far as connecting that to worship on Sunday, it’s a hurdle you don’t have.”
And people are connecting with their Savior. Several of the seniors have attended worship, and some have taken Bible information classes and become members.
The Richland Center community is grateful to Bethlehem for its compassion. In early 2022, Bethlehem won the “nonprofit of the year” award through the county’s “Making a Difference Awards.” It’s the first time in the award’s history that a church has received the honor.
Bethlehem isn’t stopping with the meal program. Their outreach plans—with the Lord’s blessing—are getting bigger. Seeing the need in the community, Bethlehem plans to open an early childhood center in September 2022. They will take it a step further by connecting the two outreach ministries under their roof. Seeing the research about the benefits of intergenerational connections, Bethlehem plans to purposefully integrate the seniors with the preschoolers.
Lewig is excited about where God is leading Bethlehem. “You already see the opportunities that are coming. You are just waiting for God to put them in front of you.”
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022