Created on Friday, 02 August 2013 Written by MANDY LOEHR
Elementary students exited the doors of Northeastern Elementary School for the final time about two months ago, and now much teaching and learning continues to take place at the building, as a growing church has moved into the facility.
ABOVE: Pastor Bart Zirkle of the Reality Outreach Church stands Wednesday in the sanctuary of the church. The ROC recently moved into the former Northeastern Elementary School, 600 E. Brown Ave., and the sanctuary is located in the school’s gymnasium. FRONT PAGE PHOTO: Additional signage soon will be installed at the entrance of the Reality Outreach Church. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | MANDY LOEHR)
The Reality Outreach Church, also known as The ROC, began renovations to the building at 600 E. Brown Ave. June 1, and hosted its first service July 7. The church previously had been located at 874 E. Sandusky Ave. in the Hyland Hills Plaza.
Bellefontaine City Schools donated the school building to the church in a $1 real estate transfer. Northeastern Elementary and the district’s other elementary school, Southeastern Elementary, will no longer be used by BCS with the opening of a new elementary and middle school along Ludlow Road this school year.
“We were blessed to get the facility for a $1,” said Bart Zirkle, pastor of The ROC. “We’re using the money that we would have used to buy a new building into updates and purchasing new equipment.
“We want to make sure we utilize this blessing we’ve been given with this facility and do something that will benefit the community.”
Pastor Zirkle said the donation of the new space came at the perfect time, as his congregation had outgrown their previous building that they had occupied for 16 months since the church started.
“It exploded really quickly,” he said of the church’s growth. “We set up out there knowing we could only hold a set number of people, about 200, and we reached that number in about six months.
“Now in our new facility, we’ve even grown in the past month. We’re now seeing about 250 people at our services.”
Prior to starting The ROC, the pastor has served in the ministry field for about 16 years, including spending seven years as a youth pastor and associate pastor at Goshen Friends Church.
Since taking occupancy of the building in June, approximately 70 of the church members have pitched in to renovate the 38,000 square foot facility, including painting the hallways and classrooms, adding decorative touches at the entryway and installing signage.
The former school gymnasium also has been transformed into a sanctuary that seats 400 people, complete with sound and light equipment, soundproofing and an expanded stage large enough for drama presentations.
At one wing of the former school, the church’s youth group members have created their own classroom and social space complete with musical equipment and walls with Scripture verses.
A dedicated children’s area is located in another wing of the building, and is utilized for children’s worship that takes place during the 10 a.m. Sunday service.
Near the front entrance, a coffee café area has been incorporated in the former school office, with an espresso machine and an assortment of flavored syrups lining countertops.
The café opens before and after the Sunday service and also prior to the 6:30 p.m. Wednesday service to offer members and guests a chance to connect.
“It’s a great fellowship tool,” Pastor Zirkle said. “Have a cup of coffee and sit down and talk with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Our goal here is to make everyone feel like they’re part of the family and to build those relationships.”
“We have a home-type atmosphere here. Some of our most intimate conversations with Christ occur when we are in our home setting.”
All of the changes relied solely on church members’ efforts and expertise, with the exception of bringing in an outside contractor to install air conditioning in the sanctuary.
“Every time you do something for the Lord, there’s bound to be a lot of work required,” the pastor said. “Our people are tired after doing all of this work, but now we’re already reaping the benefits of serving the Lord.
“We’re seeing those blessings on Sunday mornings and during our ministries throughout the week.”
One ministry that The ROC began at the former facility and will continue at the new building is a food pantry that serves approximately 35 to 40 families each month.
Moving forward at the new location, Pastor Zirkle said he wants to continue to reach new people to share Christ through all of the programming and Bible studies at The ROC.
“We want to fill our church with those who are lost, dying and hurting because they need a good physician. We want them to know the practical application of who Christ is and how to have a relationship with Him in a fallen world.”
In addition to Sunday programs, the church leadership also will strive for a lively atmosphere at the facility throughout the week. A workout room will be installed for members, along with other opportunities for youths and adults.
“We want our church to be somewhere that’s open and brimming with life,” the pastor said.
“You’ll often drive by churches that are basically shut down during the week, but we’d like our church to be a place where people can come and feel welcome anytime.”
For additional information about the church, visit their Facebook page or Web site, www.realityoutreachchurch.com.