The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 14, 2011

h2church may be the largest church in the Valley

Partners meet in theater

— SELINSGROVE — The h2church, a part of Higher Hope International Ministries, may very well be the largest church in the Valley without a building to call its own.

And that’s the way Pastor Mark Gittens likes it.

So does the congregation, called partners, not members, in order to stay away from sounding like people just joined a food club, Gittens said. What they really are, Gittens said, are “partners in a work, co-workers with Christ.”

They have challenged a number of longtime, manmade church traditions.

“We believe the day of going to church is over, and the day of being the church is here,” he said.

Gittens credits that concept for the church’s huge growth in just 13 years, from 13 partners in a small Market Street, Sunbury, storefront, to 500 partners meeting in a 320-seat theater at the Cinema Center in the Susquehanna Valley Mall, Hummels Wharf, for two services every Sunday. The church rents another two theaters for children’s programs each week. The cost is $36,000 a year.

“Seeing that one church in Sunbury paid almost $28,000 for heat, for a few hours a week, this is great stewardship and keeps us focused on the mission, not the building,” Gittens said.

For the past six years, h2church never advertised anywhere except on its website.

“It never stopped growing,” Gittens said.

To the point it has been exceeding its space for quite some time.

Thankfully, he said h2church has been approved by the Selinsgrove Area School District to begin meeting in the middle school beginning April 3. The auditorium seats 700. Gittens said a rental fee has not been determined.

At a time when many churches are closing or worrying about the future, Gittens said he believes h2church is growing because it has set aside mere traditions and has gone to the Bible for clear direction on how to be a church, as God intended from the beginning.

The congregation is encouraged to live and celebrate its Christian walk throughout the week, not just Sundays. The partners meet in fellowship, take care of each others’ needs, visit local prisons and help with community service projects for delinquent youths, and a few are gearing up to beautify areas around their own neighborhoods.

“We continue to upset the status quo in local churches,” Gittens said, adding that it is a task sometimes to “de-religion” people.

It’s not about buildings, he said: “What we are creating is an unmovable force. It’s about the Kingdom of God. To His kingdom there will be no end.”

Buildings are temporary, he said. Lives being changed has eternal value.

Instead of congregations “waiting for people to come to their church,” he said, “it’s about the church going to the people.”

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