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When Josh and Gina Kennedy wanted to start holding a Bible study about seven years ago, they just wanted a place to study Scripture and build relationships. Josh began the search for a place to meet and before he knew it, he was the pastor of a new church plant.
Sheridan is a small town about 30 miles north of Indianapolis with a population of less than 3,000, which means there aren’t a lot of places available to rent to conduct a church service. However, a store front church closed its doors and the owner of the building offered the fledgling Issachar Church the space to meet in at no charge for a few months to see if it fit their needs.
That was the first of many miracles to come.
“I started getting calls from different pastors,” Josh Kennedy recalls. “They’d ask me, ‘What are you doing?’ because I was in prayer and God told me to give you . . .” The church was gifted its chairs, soundboard, and other ministry supplies as God led area ministers to help the new church.
The name of the church, Issachar, Gina explains, comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32, which says the tribe of Issachar knew the days they lived in and knew what must be done.
In what some might call a foreshadowing of things to come, the Kennedys, who are both 42, says the church’s first outreach was held from midnight to 2 a.m. in front of a local bar, where they served pancakes and coffee to patrons as they left.
As time passed, the small church of about 15 grew to about 45 people, but they were having to move from place to place, and each relocation seemed to peel away a few people from the church, while new faces began to arrive. The unsettled nature of the constant relocating led Josh and Gina to look for a permanent home for the church.
Purchasing a permanent location was a great idea that had the support of church members, but lacked two key ingredients: money and available buildings.
As the Kennedys searched, the bar that the church had held its first outreach outside of kept drawing them back. It had been closed for about three years now and was for sale, but the owner wanted $120,000 — it may as well have been $1 million as the church didn’t have that kind of cash.
“The building was in horrible shape,” Josh says, who is bi-vocational. “The city was on the verge of condemning it.”
Over a period of six months, Josh would meet with the owner several times, explaining how the church would also benefit the community financially as it was already helping people write resumes and do well in job interviews — only it would expand those ministries.
The owner lowered the price to $70,000, but it was still out of range. Finally, after fasting and prayer and upon the advice of their mentor, Cecil Adams, senior pastor of First Assembly of God, Killeen, Texas, the Kennedys decided to simply ask the owner to give them the building outright.
When Josh arrived and shared how he had been trying to raise the money to buy the building, but the grants and other avenues kept falling through, the owner surprised him. He said the day before his accountant had recommended he just give the building to him. “I ended up signing a few papers and left with a building in my pocket,” he says, disbelief still tinging his voice.
The church began the renovation of the late-1800s, 8,000-square-foot building in August 2016 — reroofing it and removing 18 40-yard dumpsters of debris and trash from the facility. The plan is to have the facility totally renovated by this time next year.
Adams says that the Kennedys are very innovative and creative, and did a terrific job serving as the children’s pastors at First Assembly for a number of years. “He comes back and preaches about once a year,” Adams says. “So, as the church board knows them so well, when we sold our old building, we paid a tithe of that to Issachar Church to help them with their renovations.”
Then, in June, a leader from the local Quaker church approached Gina. The church wanted to sell them their building.
“It was a well-maintained church and seats about 200 people,” Gina says, “but it was still a classic 1880s building and really wouldn’t meet our needs or vision for impacting our community.”
Then came the asking price.
At first, the Kennedys were confused. What was God doing? The Quaker church was move-in ready, but wasn’t what the church or community needed and their church didn’t need to move locations yet again; the former bar was well into the renovation process and was in the ideal location, but wouldn’t be ready for a year.
But God knew what was coming.
“Three days later, I received a call from the Internal Revenue Service,” Josh says. “The location we had been renting for the church, apparently the owner owed back taxes and the property was being seized and sold. We had two weeks to remove all of our stuff.”
Issachar Church has been meeting at the new “$1 location” since July and the Kennedys still marvel at God’s provision. “Two buildings were given to us in less than a year, what a phenomenal experience!” Josh says.
“I believe in Josh and Gina Kennedy,” states Don Gifford, Indiana district superintendent. “Josh is a man of integrity and hard work and God has shown them favor.”
A lot of things have changed in the community since Issachar Church began meeting and praying. Alcoholism is a big challenge in the community. Issachar Church identified this and immediately started a prayer team that goes to specific areas and “Prays on site with Insight” and God doing the rest.
“The bar that we’re renovating was a pretty shady place,” Josh admits with a bit of a laugh. “I met a guy while I was prayer walking the neighborhood and he knew of the place. He told me, ‘Yeah, I stabbed a guy there once . . . , I’ll have to come see you guys.’”
Progress on the renovation continues to be made. The church has a $60,000 new roof, the interior has been stripped to a shell, plumbing and HVAC systems are being added, and Josh says they are less than $40,000 from completing the renovation.
But for now, the Kennedys and the congregation of Issachar Church are focused on taking things a step at a time as God provides for the renovation and meeting the needs of their community, spiritually and financially. Gina explains that the church invests a lot of time in helping people find and get jobs, and that in spring, they will also start offering financial stewardship classes.
“We’ve basically been living out of a suitcase [as a church],” Josh says. “Now we have a place that is our own and it will enable us to do better and more effective outreach.”