Atypical hours & location attract recovery attendees
ERLANGER, Ky. (BP) -- New Reality -- Southern Baptists' newest church plant in northern Kentucky -- meets on Friday nights, not Sundays.
The church plant has grown quickly -- from 20 people in May to about 95 in late October and was anticipating its first three baptisms in late November.
Chris Hamilton, who leads New Reality, is a recovering alcoholic himself who has been sober for 10 years. After coming to Christ, he felt called to preach "the recovery gospel."
"I didn't know what that meant at the time," Hamilton said. To prepare, he went back to school to finish an undergraduate degree in Christian ministry and is currently working on a master's degree in clinical counseling.
After several attempts to start other recovery ministries, Hamilton connected with Shane Brewer, pastor of nearby Fort Mitchell Baptist Church who shares his vision and heart for ministering to those with addictions and for those who are in recovery but need to know Jesus.
"I know that Chris has been called and gifted," said Brewer, who became his mentoring pastor. "God put a call on his life to help others experience that same recovery."
Brewer helped New Reality locate at the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association's offices in Erlanger by getting Hamilton together with NKBA director of missions Jim Woolums.
"We actually started a ministry at the church, but it seemed like people had a difficult time coming in and experiencing the church through that avenue," Brewer recounted. "When they opened it up at the association's offices, it seemed like people could come in without those preconceptions of being judged, of feeling guilty, and they were able to build a community."
A key part of a recovery ministry, Hamilton said, "is to create a safe place where people with addictions can come and just be" and where they can find the resources, housing, assistance and support they need. "To get to know Jesus, we want them to come to us," he added.
The Life Recovery Center does not necessarily do all the different ministries, Hamilton said, but it would be a regional hub to connect people with organizations in the area that provide the social services needed to be successful in their recovery.
"Of course, the biggest part of that is a relationship with Jesus," he said. "That's where the church was really birthed from."
New Reality meets on Friday nights because a large percentage of the people whom the center wants to draw are not necessarily churchgoers, Hamilton noted. "So, they're not going to be interested in going on Sunday mornings."
New Reality also doesn't want to conflict with other church services "because the whole idea here is to be that jumping off point into knowing Jesus," he said. "As people come in and we disciple them, we want them to be able to connect with their local church."
The bigger vision, though, is to take the Life Recovery Center model and plant other centers in communities that need the ministry across the region.
"We want to create a model that we can replicate," Hamilton said. "The idea is to partner with the local church. We want to be a helping hand."
Most churches don't have the resources, the funds or the people who are experienced in dealing with addictions, he said. "So, the people in their church who are suffering with addictions may not be getting what they need.
"If we can provide that and help them get healthy and whole again, and send them back to their own church, they can then be ministers in helping identify folks who need help."
What does a typical Friday evening service at New Reality look like? Dinner is served at 6; worship starts at 7; and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting follows at 8.
Many of those attending are residents of the men's and women's treatment centers in the area. "The beautiful thing is, it's all voluntary," Hamilton said. "These folks are choosing to come here."
Woolums is excited to see the association's building being used to serve the addiction community through various support groups, counseling and other services -- “seven days a week for ministry to our community and to our churches.”
All of the association's pastors "have been very supportive and are referring people to it," Woolums said, adding that "a number of them are driving their church buses for pickups and delivery and staying to participate in worship."