Do we fully understand the Great Commission? In Matthew 28:19, Jesus gives us two verbs as instructions: “go” and “make.” As someone who has experienced God’s grace first hand, Russ Thomas recognizes the importance of these commands. It was with this understanding that he began a small in-home Bible study that has since blossomed into one of Lima’s newest churches: The Gathering Place.
The Gathering Place
Russ, along with his wife Cindy, opened The Gathering Place on June 5, 2016 with a specific mission: to reconcile those who have addictions back to God. They strive to meet people wherever they are in life; Russ has adopted the mentality that his church should be a “revolving door” ministry focused on bringing to life the spiritual gifts each individual has — and then sending them out to use their gifts for Kingdom service.
Indeed, seven ministries have been birthed from The Gathering Place. It’s the very embodiment of the Great Commission: making disciples who then go and make more disciples, and then who, in turn, disciple others and so on.
Russ is passionate about helping those dealing with addictions. His church’s focus on such stems from an unexpected season of addiction in Russ’s own life. He sat down last year and spoke with Jennifer Beck to talk about his testimony. His journey from dealing with a staph infection to a partial leg amputation to becoming addicted to painkillers to becoming a pastor is a testament of God’s wonderful forgiveness.
Looking back since they first opened the church, Russ estimates 490 unique individuals have visited their church. Not every sinner who has come through their doors has received salvation, but Russ recognizes that this is a part of the job: plant the seed of reconciliation in some that will later be watered by someone else.
The Gathering Place holds two Sunday services, with attendance averaging about 20 for the first service and up to 50 for the second.
5 things we get by serving others
Jesus instructs us to lead through servant leadership. When we obey His commands there are things that we get out of it. Learn what those are in our free guide.Download our guide here
The Two Shall Become One
Russ and Cindy are total personality opposites. While Cindy had been a believer for quite some time, leading up to and during his season of addiction Russ wasn’t. It was Cindy’s perfect example of what a Christian spouse should be that helped lead to Russ’s conversion. She always had the heart of a servant, and trusted in the promise that through her actions she would win her husband to the Lord. On March 9, 2009 at an Emmaus Walk in Sidney, Russ fully gave his life to Jesus.
Once Russ dedicated his life to Christ, his marriage strengthened beyond expectations. “When you put Christ at the center of your marriage, that’s a life changer,” he says.
Russ says that Hebrews 13:2 defines their unique two-fold combination ministry: always focused on showing hospitality, they first focus on helping those dealing with addictions. Secondly, they also strive to serve those new in their Christian walk but still dealing with some kind of personal trial.
They’ve also never passed around a collection plate. Russ says that this is by design: he’s bi-vocational, working as the director of Family Promise as well as pastoring. They have a collection box at the back of the church and leave it at that. God has been faithful too, as there’s always been enough money to make sure the church’s bills get paid.
Another creative aspect of their ministry is the Q&A session at the end of each sermon. Rather than just being spoken to, this gives the congregation an opportunity to get involved. Russ believes the fruit of these sessions has made him more relatable — and you might even catch him dressed up as a pirate from time to time as well!
All are welcome at The Gathering Place. Their Sunday services start at 9am and 11am. The Gathering Place is located at 2025 S. Conant Rd in Spencerville. Visit them on Facebook, and catch Russ’s full testimony on replay below.