By Sue Sprenkle

PERU, Neb. — Churches don’t look or feel the same so why should church planting? For Northridge Church, the newest of their five-church network looks like nothing they could have imagined on paper. It just “kind of happened” and in one of the most unlikely places: Peru, Neb.

The idea was to start a church — in an area with little gospel presence — using Peru State College students as its main congregation while at the same starting a new Christian Challenge ministry on the college campus. Starting two ministries at the same time sounds crazy but what makes this idea really outside-the-box is college students are transient and normally poor. How can they afford a pastor or any other things a church needs? What about stability? After graduating, students spread out and settle in other places as young professionals.

Northridge took the challenge and partnered with KNCSB and Kansas State University’s Christian Challenge to share resources, knowledge and support in the endeavor.

Interim pastor Zack Robson said Peru was actually an ideal place. The small community of 900 residents only has a Catholic church and another community church. While that sounds properly “churched,” when you add in the 2,500 students that come each year to the college, there are a lot of possibilities. Robson said as a small-town Kansas kid he was prepared for how this size of town operates but his mind was blown when he realized that this area was virtually unchurched.

“I’m amazed at how many Peru State students just don’t know very much about Christianity or any religion,” Robson said. “They are interested in spiritual things. Now is the time to reach out to them and teach how to walk with God.”

Robson joked that it took all of three minutes to get a Christian Challenge started on campus. The students and campus were receptive to the idea and the group is growing in number for the weekly fellowships and small groups. Establishing a church was a different story, though. The first gathering was Sept. 27, 2020, in the midst of COVID. The congregation is made up of a few community members and a dozen or so college students.

Support and mentoring from Northridge is something Robson and the new pastor, Daniel Hutchinson, are grateful for. The Northridge network provides time for church leaders to gather and offer each other encouragement and wisdom.

“Charlie (Robinson) helped us remember that the key for building the foundation of a church is investing in individual people,” Robson said of the Northridge Network leader. “We really focused on that the first year and are seeing some spiritual maturity happening.”

Hutchinson is excited to dig in this fall semester in planting seeds of the gospel. He worked for Christian Challenge at K-State and is excited about how a church and college ministry can feed into each other from the very beginning.

“In such a small community, these two ministries will really work well together. It will be healthy for students to see how to walk with Christ long-term and not just as a college student,” he said. “They will learn how to be a Christ follower and leaders in a church.”

You can be a part of bringing the gospel to unchurched areas of Kansas-Nebraska through your gifts to the Viola Webb Offering for State and Associational Missions. You can also support them through prayer. Hutchinson asks that you pray for “every believer in our church to be passionate about the gospel and reaching people with it. Pray for the people in the church that the believers will deeply love the Lord and go out on mission in our community and beyond.”