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John Neff used to build buildings. Now, he’s building a church and a new outreach ministry.
Neff was president and chief executive officer of Nielsen Inc, a building contractor in Harrisonburg. But several years ago, that changed.
“In 2005 I sensed a call to the ministry,” he said.
Neff enrolled in Eastern Mennonite Seminary and was ordained in the Church of the Brethren in 2010. He was serving a church in Grottoes when he felt that God was going to move him. Then, in late September, his prayer partner said to him “John, I sense a lake ministry. I see water and 12 people.”
Shortly after that, he was speaking at a district conference not knowing that the entire congregation of Lake Side Church of the Brethren — there were 12 adults — were there. Afterward, they voted to call him as their new pastor.
Neff said that Lake Side was in the second phase of a building program when the members called him. The church’s sanctuary was complete by the time he got here at the beginning of March.
Having retired from years in the construction business gives him an advantage in that he can provide the church a full-time pastor on part-time pay. His business background also gives him an entrepreneurial spirt, which is useful in what is essentially a new church plant.
A new church plant, in turn, offers its own advantages. It doesn’t have a lot of “we’ve always done it that way” baggage, he said.
Neff has plans for a community outreach program called Awaken, which just started last month and is held on Thursday nights. It starts at 5:30 p.m. with a free meal. That’s followed by programs for children, youth and adults. The program revolves around Bible study, with everyone studying the same lesson, but is geared to three different age levels.
“It’s all around the central theme of the lesson of that day,” Neff said.
Youth and adults do a regular Bible study with a focus on how to apply what they have learned. Children have a combination of recreation, crafts and stories.
“I hope to reach people who don’t know the love of Christ,” Neff said, explaining the goal.
His aim is people who don’t go to church. He said that he’s not here to move fish from one aquarium to another. The idea is to catch some fish that aren’t yet in any aquarium.
“That’s what the Great Commission is about,” Neff said. “Go and make disciples, not go and transfer fish.”
He also plans “prayer walks.” In these, he and members of the church will walk through communities, praying for people on the streets. Whenever they pass a house with toys in the yard, they will pray that God will bless the families, the marriages and the relationships.
Another outreach idea is to offer help and he’s looking for innovative ways to do this. One idea is to help people with resume writing and interviewing techniques.
“There are a lot of people out there doing this, but they charge for it,” he said.
Neff believes his 30 years in business will be helpful. He said at one point his construction business had 250 employees, so he has plenty of experience interviewing people.
“Those are the kind of things we can do to reach out and help people,” Neff said.
Neff said that his long term goal is for the church to be the hands and feet of Christ, looking out to see what the church can do to care for the people in the community.
Neff isn’t a stranger to the area. He said that he worked with a lot of firms out of Roanoke when he was in the construction business, so he knows people in this area and there are people who know him.
“Our firm was known for ethical practices as far as business,” he said.