ERLANGER—Northern Kentucky Baptist Association's newest church plant, New Reality, isn't your typical congregation.
New Reality is meeting on Friday nights, not Sundays, at the association office building and has grown quickly—from 20 people in May to about 95 in late October.
But, perhaps more atypical, New Reality, a church plant of Fort Mitchell Baptist Church, also is part of Life Recovery Center, which provides Christ-centered answers to those struggling with addictions.
Chris Hamilton, who leads New Reality, is a recovering alcoholic himself who has been sober for about 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 at Cincinnati Christian University.
After several attempts to start other recovery ministries, Hamilton connected with Shane Brewer, pastor of Fort Mitchell Baptist Church. Brewer shares his vision and heart for ministering to those with addictions and for those who are in recovery but need to know Jesus, Hamilton said.
"I know that Chris has been called and gifted," said Brewer, who became his mentoring pastor. Recalling that Hamilton overcame alcoholism, he said, "From that point, God put a call on his life to help others experience that same recovery."
Brewer helped set up the ministry's move to the association's offices by getting Hamilton and NKBA's director of missions, Jim Woolums, together.
"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 said. "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 explained, "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 would not necessarily do all the different ministries, he 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," he added.
The church plant has grown steadily and was anticipating its first three baptisms last Friday. "We're pretty excited about that," Hamilton said.
The group meets on Friday nights because a large percentage of the people whom the center wants to draw are not necessarily church-goers, noted Hamilton. "So, they're not going to be interested in going on Sunday mornings," he added.
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," he added. "We want to be a helping hand."
The reality is, most churches don't have the resources, the funds, or the people who are educated and 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," he said.
"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," he explained.
What does a typical Friday evening service at New Reality Church look like? Dinner is served at 6 p.m.; worship starts at 7 p.m.; and an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting follows at 8 p.m.
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 New Reality growing and the association's building being used to serve the addiction community through various support groups, counseling and other services.
"I am thrilled to see our association office being used seven days a week for ministry to our community and to our churches," Woolums said. "All off the NKBA pastors have been very supportive and are referring people to it," he said, adding that "a number of them are driving their church buses for pickups and delivery and staying to participate in worship." (WR)