by Sallie Schaaf Borrink
What do you get when you combine a historic movie theater, a secondhand children’s clothing store and the third largest community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? A very innovative church planting operation - Silver Winds Church, Escanaba, Mich.
Art Radlicki and his wife Lisa moved to Escanaba in January 2000 with a vision of planting a church. But the way they are accomplishing this is far from ordinary. Through a partnership with Great Lakes Church Planting (BGC) and The Partnership for Church Planting, Art and Lisa are laying the foundation of this church through a Store called Born-Again Clothes for Kids.
Born-Again Clothes for Kids is an upscale, secondhand children's clothing store. "This is not a Goodwill-type store," points out Art. "We want this store to stand out and be different. So far, people have been very pleased with the quality and thrilled with the pricing."
Outfitted with style and savvy
Art credits Lisa with much of the store's success. "She is very involved. I could not have picked a better person to partner with in mission work. She is very knowledgeable about what should go into the store. She knows prices to ask and what will sell well. She wants the store to be something special."
So how does a children's clothing store lead to planting a church?
The store has been an excellent means for the Radlickis to become a part of the community. As word has spread, business has steadily increased. Each time a customer walks into the store, Art and Lisa have a new opportunity to make a connection with a community member. According to Art, the store serves three purposes. First, it provides a way for Art and Lisa to become involved with the community in a readily visible way. Second, it helps them earn the right to be heard as they become a part of what goes on daily in Escanaba. Third, it generates income that helps with the establishment of a new church
So where does the historic movie theater come in?
When Art and Lisa were looking for a building to house the store, they were amazed to find the Michigan Theater building available. A historic landmark, the theater was built during the 1920s. Its large silver screen is still present in the 340-seat auditorium. "The acoustics are fabulous because the theater was built during the silent film era," remarks Art. The auditorium also has a stage that has been enlarged and will be enlarged again in the near future, to meet church needs.
The clothing store is in the concession and lobby area of the theater. The auditorium currently is being rented out to various groups in the community - allowing Art and Lisa to continue to build relationships with community members. It also brings more people into the theater and helps raise awareness about Born-Again Clothes for Kids.
Launching the store has not been without difficulties. "When we were getting the store rolling, we were short on volunteers and product. All the clothes are donated. We were initially open noon to four. But when we opened full-time, it brought more traffic and things picked up. Lisa and I staffed it ourselves until there were volunteers."
For Art, managing the momentum of the church has been a challenge. So many people in the area are excited about a church with a contemporary style coming to town. While the church has not officially been launched, "we are 'doing church' even though we are not meeting on Sunday mornings," says Art. He estimates that 97 percent of his and Lisa's time at the store is spent talking with people - sharing the gospel, doing contact counseling with people regarding issues in their lives, and just generally getting to know people.
˜It's getting good reviews
"The word is out in the community that this will be a church that welcomes those who are hurting," says Art, thrilled that the perception is out there that this church wants to make a difference in people’s lives.