When Michele Fiester saw a former Chuck E. Cheese building sitting empty, she thought it would be a great space for a church.
Michele and her husband, Jon, planted Renewal MB Church in Rapid City, S.D., in 2018, renting a conference room in the Dahl Arts Center downtown for the church’s Sunday gatherings.
Two years later and cramped for space, the congregation was looking to make a move. But with lease prices reaching $20 per square foot, finding an affordable option was proving challenging.
When, months later, the former restaurant still sat empty, one phone call changed everything. The Fiesters learned the property owner would lease the space for a third of the expected rate, prompting a move for Renewal MB, which has, in turn, opened new doors for ministry in the neighborhood.
Cramped for space
Renewal launched in 2018 with a 5 p.m. Sunday service, targeting members of the community who might not be able to attend church on Sunday morning.
But, with just one large room and an office, the conference room lacked a place for outreach events or kids programming, and not many children came.
According to youth leader Abby Hoehne, who began her time with Renewal as an intern from Lake Region Mennonite Church in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and has now volunteered there more than a year and a half, three or four youth might attend a church event downtown.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the congregation created a space for kids’ programming by setting up temporary partitions in a hallway.
“After COVID, we weren’t allowed to do that anymore, so we had nowhere for kids to go during service,” Michele says. “It was just one space. Those were probably the biggest limiting factors for that particular space. It really made us pursue even harder, where is God leading us? Because we know God wants us to do more ministry than just Sunday afternoons.”
An empty building, an opportunity
In March 2020, Michele noticed the empty Chuck E. Cheese building across the interstate from the mall where she took her daughter to aerial gymnastics class. Michele says she thought the building was a nice size with plenty of windows and would be non-threatening for visitors.
“Our mission and our purpose is to reach people who have been hurt by the church or who don’t want anything to do with the church, so we’ve always wanted a space that was very neutral,” she says. “This was perfect in my mind.”
When Michele suggested to Jon that Renewal should inquire about the building, she says he agreed it would be a good fit but thought it would be too expensive based on the price of other buildings they had considered.
As months passed and Michele continued to see the empty building, in December or January, she again told Jon she thought they should at least call.
When the Fiesters made the call, the property manager quoted a rate of $9 a square foot—already less than half of what was expected—causing the Fiesters to pray and crunch numbers. The next morning, they received a text that the owner wanted to lease the building to Renewal for $7 a square foot.
“That’s a third, pretty much, of what going rate for leasing space in Rapid City is,” Michele says. “We’re like, ‘All right, it’s meant to be. God’s basically gifting us this place.’”
So, Renewal decided to lease the 7,500-square foot unit, the largest space in a building with multiple units.
Renewal receives a monthly subsidy from the Central District Conference and has done fundraising in order to lease and remodel the space.
With Jon having construction experience—he discovered he had previously worked for the owner of the building—the owner allowed him to do the remodeling work.
After a month of 12-hour workdays, Michele says, the building was ready to open by Easter.
The new sanctuary is about the same size as what Renewal had previously, but the church now has a classroom, nursery, a commons area with a coffee shop and a commercial kitchen.
Renewal held its first service in its new space in March 2021, about one year after Michele first noticed the building sitting empty.
“We have had a lot of generous friends and families and churches that have been able to help us get to this point,” she says. “We still have a long ways to go, but it’s super exciting. God’s provided every step of the way of what we’ve needed, and it’s just been awesome to see the doors he’s opening up to us here.”
Renewal’s new location has provided more opportunities for outreach to people living in a nearby apartment complex.
The Knollwood Apartments across the street provide low-income housing to several thousand people, Michele says.
The complex is prone to gang violence, she says, and frequently makes the local news for incidents of violence.
“A lot of the stuff that’s happened has been in this neighborhood right across the street from us,” she says. “So it’s a little scary at times, but I know that God wouldn’t put us here if he didn’t have us here for a reason.”
Following the neighborhood’s second homicide in a week, the city held a neighborhood block party in early July with the theme, “Standing together against violence.”
According to a Rapid City Municipal Government Facebook post, the purpose of the event was to show community support for residents and connect neighbors with mental health support and mentoring.
Tyler Read, community engagement coordinator for the Rapid City Police Department, said this in the Facebook post:
“The police department, the city, they can’t do all the heavy lifting on this. The community needs to be a part of this, all of the community. And there are solutions. I’ve seen it in action. Please come out and show these kids and these families that we do care, that we are invested in them, and their voice matters and their safety matters.”
The Fiesters attended the event and invited their neighbors to a monthly movie night—something the apartment complex manager was hosting until her equipment was stolen.
Working together with the manager, Renewal contributed equipment for an outdoor movie night at the complex in June. The Fiesters borrowed a popcorn machine from sister MB congregation Bible Fellowship Church, and Renewal provided drinks and candy for the event, attended by 50 people, primarily children.
“(We) made a lot of really cool connections with people and have been able to get into the community much, much quicker, because it’s already something that they were doing that we could just step into where God’s already at work,” Michele says.
One teenager helped carry equipment back to the church after the event and has since started coming to church on his own, she says.
The next month, because of the recent homicides, the apartment manager asked if Renewal would be wiling to hold the July movie night inside the church—an opportunity Michele says the church welcomed.
Again, 50 people attended, included three or four families. Seven of those children came to church the following Sunday.
“That just made my heart really glad because we have been praying for kids to come to our church and come in the building and that we would have kids to teach and love on,” she says. “It was awesome to have them show up.”
Expanding kids’ ministry
Throughout the week, children from the apartments have started coming across the street to the church, so Hoehne—who hopes to join the church staff part-time and eventually be a youth pastor—has begun planning weekly lessons on Wednesdays and Sundays, with worksheets, games and supervision. Some kids come hungry, and Renewal provides food from the church food pantry.
“We’ve got to do something because these kids are not (from) strong homes, so they need somewhere healthy for them to grow, especially with Jesus,” Hoehne says. “Those kids are going to be the future leaders of our church if things keep going as they are.”
On a given Sunday, about 15 children attend church, ranging in age from 0 to 18.
“Now we (have) younger ones, and hopefully we can lead them in the right direction because there’s a lot of hurt and brokenness in those apartments,” Hoehne says. “Those kids need to hear, ‘Jesus loves you.’”
As Renewal beefs up its youth ministry, the hope is to rent a next-door unit for a youth room.
“It’s awesome to have this youth movement going when we’ve prayed for that for three years,” Michele says. “We’ve been meeting since 2018 and have not seen a lot of youth coming through our doors. It’s been really, really encouraging.”
Since March, five families from the apartment complex have started attending Renewal regularly, with two additional families coming from another complex a block down the street.
“It’s been really awesome to see how God is working, just because we moved locations,” Michele says. “It’s definitely a shot in the arm for us, so to speak—a boost of purpose.”
Renewal has a security system and would like to install security cameras. The building owner has offered to contribute to the project if Renewal installs cameras for the entire building. To donate to this project, visit www.renewalmb.church or write the Fiesters at 10760 Canyon Place, Rapid City, SD 57702.
Janae Rempel Shafer is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Shafer is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Shafer graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She and her husband, Austin, attend Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kansas.