2017-10-08 / Insight

‘A church for the unchurched’

Heritage Church operates from former movie theater in Imlay City
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

Imlay City’s Heritage Church has seen attendance grow by a factor of five in just four years. 
Photo by Phil Foley Imlay City’s Heritage Church has seen attendance grow by a factor of five in just four years. Photo by Phil Foley IMLAY CITY — More than 30 countries, most of them the target of missionary efforts for decades, report higher percentages of Christians attending weekly services than the United States.

Two years ago the Pew Research Center released a study saying that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God fell from 92 percent in 2007 to 89 percent in 2014 and one study suggest the percentage of Americans regularly attending church in 2050 will be half of what it was in 1990.

Still, there are churches that see signs for hope. One of them is Heritage Church in Imlay City.

After opening in a closed movie theater off North Cedar Street with 50 members in 2013 the church has seen Sunday attendance grow to 250.

“We’re a church for the unchurched,” said Assistant Pastor Randy Hall.

Pastor Tom Blount and Asst. Pastor Randy Hall stand on the stage at Heritage Church in Imlay City. 
Photo by Phil Foley Pastor Tom Blount and Asst. Pastor Randy Hall stand on the stage at Heritage Church in Imlay City. Photo by Phil Foley That, according to studies by Pew and the Barna Group, which place the percentage of unchurched Americans at between 37 and 38 percent, would seem to give Heritage fertile ground to work in.

The church began in 2000 in Macomb Township with 111 people and for its first decade was a portable church, growing to four semi-loads of equipment that were set up and taken down weekly.

In 2010 it found a permanent home in the former AMC Sterling 10 Movie Theater on Schoenherr near Lakeside Mall and four years later the church first rented and then bought the former Cinema 3 Movie Theater in Imlay City.

Hall and Tom Blount, who recently joined the Imlay City Campus as preaching pastor, point to the building’s front door, which bears the message “No Perfect People Allowed” as part of the key to Heritage’s success.

Hall described it as a Biblebased, non-denominational Christian church that’s “very similar to Baptists.”

“It’s not about me. It’s not about Randy,” said Blount. “It’s about God’s message.”

But to get people to hear the message, you’ve got to get them through the door. “You can’t win enemies to Jesus, only friends,” Blount said.

That, he said, is why they don’t think of new people coming through the door as visitors, but rather as guests. “You don’t prepare for visitors, but you do for guests,” Blount said.

The first thing guests encounter at Heritage is a smiling greeter and the second is a coffee bar.

“In a sense, we want to captivate people. That’s what Jesus was all about,” Hall said. “Coffee’s free. The coffee isn’t low quality coffee, it’s ground fresh every week. It’s a Michigan company, it’s Great Lakes Coffee. So, there’s a good cup of coffee they can carry around with them and they can right into the service. Some places don’t want that.”

“You’re probably going to get some of this at other churches,” Blount said, “so we’re not saying that we do it better than anybody else or they don’t do it. Perhaps everybody does it. But what I’ve enjoyed about Heritage is, it doesn’t matter what entry you come in. We want to connect with people.”

Heritage, Hall and Blount said, wants to connect, grow, share and serve with people.

One of the hallmarks of Heritage Church is its outreach through community service. Since arriving in Imlay City church members have volunteered for everything from the Blueberry Festival to the Woods-n-Water Weekend. For the past two falls, the church has sent out teams around the city helping people rake their leaves to the curb.

“We at Heritage want to be known for what we’re for, rather than what we’re against,” Hall said. “So, we’re for other churches. If they’re about Jesus, we’re for them.”

“The whole vision of what we’re at here,” Blount said, “really stems and comes from Pastor Jeff Forester, who is the main pastor of Heritage Church. You couldn’t ask for a finer leader. He really wants to reach the Thumb for Christ.”

Blount added, “It’s not that other churches don’t do it. I really want to respect others that give the truth of the Gospel. We’re trying to reach the unchurched of our community.”

Blount, whose father was a Baptist minister said, “I don’t think people are leaving Christ, so to speak, they’re leaving the religious religion. They’re leaving religion because they’re sick and tired of the political aspects and the power struggles within church organizations.”

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