An evangelical church in Indiana has launched campuses inside of prisons, a rehabilitation home, a youth shelter and even public schools to bring the Gospel to people who are not able or don’t necessarily like to physically attend church services.
For the past three years, the 800-member, nondenominational First Capital Christian Church in Harrison County, Indiana has launched and rapidly expanded its online campus through its “Church Anywhere” initiative.
The idea of Church Anywhere is to empower church members to bring the Gospel and much-needed fellowship to isolated community pockets in Southern Indiana that are overlooked by the typical Sunday church worship structure.
Since First Capital launched its online campus three years ago, the congregation has subsequently launched 15 micro campuses in locations that include prisons, foster care centers, rehabilitation facilities, elementary schools, and homeless shelters.
In addition, church members launched their own micro-campus inside their own home after noticing that many of their neighbors were not leaving their homes on Sunday morning.
According to First Capital engagement pastor Tyler Sansom, over 29 first-time decisions for Christ have been made at the church’s micro campuses so far in 2019. That total is compared to the 49 decisions for Christ that were made across just 12 micro-campuses last year. In 2019, 13 baptisms were also conducted at the micro campuses.
“We are passionate about empowering our people to go out and be the Church, which is why we call it ‘Church Anywhere,’” Sansom told The Christian Post. “It's empowered our volunteers basically to bring the church to whatever they're passionate about.”
While services might vary slightly at the different campuses, they all mostly consist of the two worship songs and a 15-minute sermon, followed by 30 minutes of small group discussion time.
While the services are entirely volunteer-run, they are led by what the church calls “volunteer campus pastors.”
“They'll have a leader who began to the pastor and then they'll bring along people with them to develop other leaders,” Sansom detailed.
“They go through training with us when they open their campus. And then they also go through a shadowing process where they shadow two or three of the other locations to see how they do it,” he continued. “So we don't want to just throw someone into the fire without making sure they’re ready.”
The first places that First Capital volunteers brought a Church Anywhere campus to were local prisons.
Today, First Capital has campuses in four prisons: Floyd County, Harrison County, Branchville, and Madison.
At Branchville Correctional Facility, which houses about 1,500 inmates, First Capital has about 20 volunteers that travel an hour each week to put on the services there.
At Branchville, a former gang member has expressed his desire to start his own Church Anywhere service. So First Capital is preparing to launch a second service in Branchville run by the inmate. That service will be held once per month in addition to the weekly services led by the First Capital volunteers.
“He's found testimony videos on YouTube from ex-gang members and things like that,” Sansom said. “And we're working with him to put those together with more heavy Christian rock music. And he seems to be the campus pastor for them.”
Sansom said that First Capital also operates another micro campus at the Open Doors Youth Services center in New Albany, which houses about 20 kids who have not yet been placed in the foster care system. The church sends 10 volunteers to operate that church.
At a homeless shelter in Jeffersonville, First Capital runs a weekly service and partners with an organization called Exit Zero. Exit Zero provides those at the shelter with a post-service meal. The average attendance for the homeless shelter service, Sansom said, is about 40.
“So at first, a lot of people would skip church and come for the meal,” he said. “And now we're averaging somewhere around like 50 to 70 homeless people that come just for the church, and they'll have like 100 for the meal.”
During the school year, the church operates Church Anywhere campuses in the form of afterschool clubs that meet at Heth-Washington Elementary in Central, Indiana and North Harrison Elementary in Ramsey.
Sansom said that as many as 80 kids attend the mid-week afterschool services at North Harrison Elementary.
“Some kids from our kid's ministry wrote letters to the principals saying that ‘we would like to start a Church Anywhere club,’” Sansom explained. “And so it's now an after-school program. We have curriculum and services that are designed specifically for them. We have a children's message with our youth band leading worship for it. And it's all done via video.”
First Capital has also established a micro campus in a home located about 45 minutes away from its Corydon campus.
“That was kind of the need that that family saw. They saw that none of their neighbors left on Sunday morning,” Sansom said. “So they're like, ‘maybe if we did it on an afternoon, and we did a meal together and made it that kind of experience, that would do it.’ And it worked.”
Sansom said that the point of a micro-campus within a neighborhood like that is to target people that don’t have any interest in coming into a church building.
“And they have become super tight. They consistently have them bringing guests with, it's really cool to see,” Sansom said.
Sansom said that another Church Anywhere campus was set up in a rehabilitation center that takes care of about 20 people suffering from Huntington’s disease, a disease that breaks down nerve cells in the brain.
“A person that goes to our church works there. And she couldn't make it on Sundays any longer because of her work schedule,” Sansom said. “So she just hooked her iPad up the TV and watched the service on a break. And then people started watching it. So that they reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, we want to make this happen here.’”
With 16 micro campuses now, including the online campus, Sansom says that First Capital is open to partnering with anyone who has a desire to bring a micro campus into a community they are passionate about. Sansom said that it costs about $600 to launch a campus in a location that doesn’t have any technology to carry the video feed of the services.
“The sky's the limit,” he stressed. “I have no idea what the next stage is going to be.”
Sansom explained that other churches have reached out inquire about starting their own programs similar to First Capital’s Church Anywhere. One of those churches is the multisite Emmanuel Church based in Greenwood, Indiana.
This year, Emmanuel Church set up microsite campuses inside a local jail, a rehabilitation center, a local work-release facility and on the campus of Purdue University.