STURGIS — Lifespring Wesleyan Lead Pastor Matt Shulaw says members of his congregation believe that the church is a group of people, not a building.
A recent move by the Wesleyan church to buy the vacant Shopko building in Sturgis to use as their gathering place in the future has created a buzz in the community.
Feedback has been mostly positive with people glad to know the building will not sit empty and become an eyesore.
“We see the building as a tool we can use to reach our community,” Shulaw said. “We actually see a lot of opportunity over at that building for us to do even more in our community.”
The transfer of the deed on the property was dated Oct. 28. The purchase price of $1.95 million included the 30,000 square-foot building on 2.83 acres on Lazelle Street in Sturgis. The buyer is listed as The Northwest District of the Wesleyan Church of which Lifespring Wesleyan is an affiliate.
Church leaders aren’t sure when or how they will convert the former retail space into a useable church building.
“There are a lot of things that have to fall into place,” Shulaw said.
Currently, Lifespring Wesleyan Church is located on the corner of Junction and Boulevard in Sturgis. Sunday attendance averages about 350 at two services.
Some of their outreach ministry events include the recent Family Fall Blast on Halloween night at the Sturgis Community Center, Touch a Truck and Serve Sturgis.
Serve Sturgis is a ministry held on a Sunday morning when church members, all dressed in matching T-shirts spread out across the community to pump gas, wash cars, bag groceries, do landscaping, help with laundry and even clean toilets.
“We would like to do more things like that and I think that building (Shopko) would serve us well. I think we can serve our community even better out of that building,” he said.
Shulaw said church leaders began doing some long-range planning about 18 months ago.
“Our church has been growing and good things have been happening, and we’ve tried to expand in ways we needed to do some different things,” he said.
The church board began to develop a five-year plan for growth.
One area of need was youth programming. Currently youth meet on Wednesday nights at The Harbor, an empty retail space in downtown Sturgis.
“That building has been a blessing, but we worry that it won’t always be there,” Shulaw said.
The church hired some consultants who could assist in the long-range planning. They studied the church’s data including attendance and current square footage.
But the problem with adding on to the current church at 1638 Junction Ave., is that they are already short on parking spaces.
The cost to buy land and build something new in Sturgis also came as somewhat of a shock to church leaders.
“Between site development, land cost and the square footage that we would need, it was just going to be unreal. There was no way we could afford it,” Shulaw said.
In August, while visiting with one of the consultants, the man asked if there were any buildings in town that could be remodeled for church purposes.
“At that point Shopko had been on the market for a little while, but we really hadn’t thought of that,” Shulaw said.
But he would soon learn that turning large retail spaces into churches is somewhat common these days.
“A lot of churches are doing that with some of the shift in our culture today,” he said. “When we evaluated that option, it actually made a lot of sense.”
The building was huge, 30,000 square feet, all on one level with nearly 180 parking spaces.
The six-member church board discussed the opportunity and voted to bring the issue to the entire congregation. Members overwhelmingly voted on Oct. 20 to move ahead with the purchase of the Shopko building.
Shulaw said the new facility will certainly give them room to grow and to continue their mission of caring for people in the community.
“We care about people more than we care about the building,” he said. “We need a functional tool that works for us, but our focus, for sure, is people.”
To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.