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Local church moves to campus, hopes to thrive with students

Three and a half years ago, Thrive Church opened its doors at Celebration Cinema as an environment for people who had given up on God and attending church.

For what most churches call “services,” Pastor Jason Raitz said Thrive likes to use the term “experiences.”

The congregation moved from Celebration Cinema to Central Michigan University on April 2. Children now meet in Finch Fieldhouse and worship takes place in Plachta Auditorium.

“Thrive is so much more than just sitting in a row,” Raitz said. “We really want people to experience something.”

Thrive Church has an average congregation of about 500 people. The non-denominational church is for people of all ages. It uses portable equipment to educate its congregation to worship, including a rock band and speakers.

Pastoral staff member Tom Rundel told the congregation on April 2 in Plachta the new home feels good, right and friendly.

“We look at this new place and the potential is amazing,” Rundel said.

Last Easter, Thrive held a worship service in Plachta Auditorium and a children’s program in Finch Fieldhouse. It was Thrive’s first time on CMU’s campus. After seeing the potential, Raitz said it gave him the idea about moving to campus permanently. He hopes that through its bigger presence on campus, Thrive will be able to connect more with students.

Immediately following the Easter service, Thrive began discussing a transition with the university. Months later, CMU and the church finalized an agreement. Thrive will conduct service projects on the Sundays that CMU is not able to rent out the space.

In February, Thrive launched the “Save a Seat” campaign, a fundraiser to help make the move to CMU possible.

The campaign allows supporters to donate money to sponsor a seat, with $40 sponsoring one of the auditoriums 1,200 seats. Donors can, however, donate any amount.

Currently, 1,096 are sponsored, Raitz said. The campaign will end after Easter.

These funds go toward making a safe environment for the children’s program at Finch Fieldhouse with portable walls, play equipment, craft tables and check-in stations.

Jacob Oebel, college director for Thrive and director of the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at CMU, said Thrive brings in equipment in order to turn their “experience” into a reality.

Raitz said meeting at Celebration Cinema was great, but the church has outgrown the space. The move to CMU allows for exponentially larger space. At Celebration Cinema, Thrive started off with one theater, which eventually led to the occupation of nine theaters.

Members of Chi Alpha volunteer with the kids and help with the band, set-up and tear-down.

To Chi Alpha, Thrive has really become an extended family. Oebel said students refer to the group of people as their “home away from home.”

Oebel said the students involved with Chi Alpha that attend Thrive have been helping out with the transition quite a bit.

“We just want to let them know that there’s a place that is simple, fun, real (and) nonjudgmental,” he said.

At some point, Raitz said Thrive would love to have its own building. However, he said many church buildings often sit empty for six out of the seven days a week.

Raitz said if they ever have their own building, they want it to be used as a community center every day of the week. They want to serve the community even when church is not in session.

No matter what happens in its future, Raitz said Thrive will continue to provide an experience for those who attend.

“We want to be a church that’s fun because life is so hard, and there’s so much pain,” Raitz said, “Life is hard enough. Let’s stop pretending and just be who we are.”

Services are at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sundays at Plachta. For more information, visit