Jim and Missy Bayer

Jim ’01, ’06, and Missy (Steele) Bayer ’69 have a heart for reaching the neighborhood around their church for Christ. Gospel Center Missionary Church, just about 1.5 miles from Bethel University’s campus, is situated right in the community of River Park. Jim, who has served as community pastor at the church since February 2020, is on a mission to show the neighborhood that Gospel Center is #ForRiverPark.

It’s an idea that was born after the Bayers heard a sermon about the book Know What You’re FOR: A Growth Strategy for Work, An Even Better Strategy for Life, by Jeff Henderson. They heard about an entire church plant born out of the concept of being “for” a neighborhood.

“So many people [think about] what churches are against – but we want to show the neighborhood what we’re for,” Jim says, explaining that you can’t reach people for Christ until you build relationships with them.

The church staff, including head pastor Jon Ranous ’98, also a Bethel graduate, studied Henderson’s book together. Their outreach committee began thinking about how Gospel Center could involve the whole church in reaching the neighborhood.

“Gospel Center has always been outreach-focused, but the book FOR made us realize we needed to do more,” Jim says.

So, Gospel Center launched a number of initiatives to reach their neighbors. They created #ForRiverPark for social media and placed a banner outside the church. They opened their gym to the Michiana Pickleball Association. They distributed 600 boxes of food to local families in need through Feed the Hungry, and provided hundreds of pounds of pasta for community spaghetti dinners at Avenue Automotive, in River Park. One big project they’ve been working on is a community park on the church property, with two basketball courts for kids and families, complete with picnic tables.

During the summer, Gospel Center held a Park Week at nearby Potawatomi Park, with activities, games, outreach, art projects and refreshments for kids and families. A neighborhood hog roast, for the 4th of July, provided live music and giveaways of Bibles and children’s books. Also during the summer, a basketball camp at the church provided an opportunity to share the gospel daily with 60 third through eighth graders, some of whom continue to attend open gyms and have started coming to church.

“We are starting to see the fruit,” says Jim of ministering to the neighborhood. “We’re going to continue to reach the community in any way we can for Christ.”

Plans for the future include community park outreach, a Trunk-or-Treat in October, and continued work with the River Park Business Association and River Park Neighborhood Association, where they’ve started to see comradery.

“We want the community to feel like this is their church,” says Jim.

Bethel graduates Jim ‘75 and Phyllis (Gardner) Marks ‘66 felt a call to be missionaries
in their community. In 2016, they purchased a home in River Park from Bethel Alumni Director Emily (Rodgers) Sherwood ’99 and her husband Craig ’98. They have since opened their home for Bible studies, done prayer walks around the neighborhood and look forward to continued ministry in the neighborhood. Pictured (left to right): Jim Bayer, Missy Bayer, Jim Marks, Phyllis Marks and Pastor Jon Ranous at church.