When a Church Meets in a Factory

Date Posted: 
Friday, September 23, 2016

LifeQuest Church (RCA) meets in the Integrated Fabric Resource (IFR) factory in Zeeland, Michigan. And the unconventional location isn’t the only unusual thing about the church’s arrangement with IFR.

When LifeQuest asked the company president about moving into his building, he came back to them with a request of his own.

“His comment was that he had been looking for a chaplain, but he didn’t have the cash to pay one,” says Toby Gruppen, LifeQuest’s pastor. “So he said, ‘How about we trade space for chaplaincy?’”

In return for meeting space, Gruppen now serves as chaplain to about 250 people.

“We’re working with 20 different language groups, and we get to work with Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheists—everything,” says Gruppen.

You might think that ministry in this context would cause some conflict. Not so, according to Gruppen.

“We’ve not had one complaint,” he says. “I think it’s because we’ve just come in and said, ‘We’re just here to love, bless, and serve you.’”

The relationships Gruppen builds through his chaplaincy open the door for LifeQuest to come alongside people in other ways.

For example, LifeQuest members helped a woman who works at IFR winterize her home. Moved by their service, the woman became a Christian. When an employee couldn’t afford to throw an open house for his son’s high school graduation, the church held one for him. Members also teach ESL and citizenship classes, and they help people who are moving.

“We had one gentleman who worked at IFR, and he was very ill, terminally,” says Lorie Tippett, a LifeQuest member. “We were able to help his family move and just come alongside them. They were Buddhists. … But he contacted a pastor in Grand Rapids on a Tuesday, and I believe it was that Friday night that he professed his faith and was baptized. Three days later, he died. It was just amazing to see that—to be a witness to that. And it just started with helping somebody move.”

An unusual opportunity to serve came when a group of Bhutanese refugees approached Gruppen with a request.

Durga Puja, an important holiday in Bhutan, was approaching. IFR had held celebrations for the holidays of other cultural groups, so the Bhutanese asked if they could have a celebration, too. They even offered to pay for it. But IFR said they couldn’t do it on such short notice.

The Bhutanese workers turned to LifeQuest.

 “We said we’d do it, but that we would pay for it ourselves,” Gruppen says.

So LifeQuest threw a party for Durga Puja, celebrating with the IFR employees over platefuls of barbecue chicken, pasta, salads, desserts, and good conversation.

“Everyone that works at IFR were just so appreciative and so sweet,” says Tippett. “‘Why are you doing this?’ they wanted to know. So it’s a great conversation starter. It’s a neat way to open up those doors, and bring in the love of Christ—introduce them to who Christ is to us.’”

After the barbecue, the group of Bhutanese workers approached Gruppen again. They handed him their money and said, “You’ve blessed us, and we want you to have this money to keep blessing the church.”

LifeQuest plans to keep blessing the people at IFR, too.

“LifeQuest isn’t your typical church model,” Gruppen says. “You know, we organized over a year ago. Someone said, ‘Oh you must be so happy now because you can get your own church building.’ I just said, ‘Then you have no idea who we are. We have no intention of getting our own building. Being here is part of our mission.’”

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