Recently a Seattle Met article touched on a phenomena that is happening in the Pacific Northwest- churches are breaking traditional services and becoming more entrepreneurial, creative and inclusive in their evangelizing the gospel. The report states Seattle is fertile ground for this type of church movement and Dope Church of Fife, Wa definitely fits that mold.
What is the church to do with drug users, prostitutes, or gambling addicts? What is the course of action in evangelizing, engaging and simply telling them they are loved? Sometimes, the right question to reflect on is why would anyone living and struggling with addiction or other challenges feel compelled to enter our world- full of clean carpets, neat narthexes, and pristine pews? When someone is struggling through addiction, it's hard to feel comfortable- even in your own skin. So, in order to reach the lost- sometimes you have to go out to find them. That’s what Chris Thomas of
in Tacoma decided to do about three years ago when he began Dope Church.
Thomas moved to the PNW five years ago with the intention of planting a church through Soma. He prayed for God to allow him into ministry with people who are experiencing brokenness – who fully understand their need of Christ’s grace. While he was in training with Soma he was hired into the Prison Ministry program at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. Through his time working with prisoners, he had an epiphany of sorts of when he witnessed men coming out of prison had a hard time getting plugged into a church. He realized the opportunity for the Church to go where people are experiencing their brokenness- or as he likes to say, “to infiltrate criminal networks with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Shame, regret and anxiety keep people who have experienced high levels of brokenness out of our buildings, so it makes sense that the Church needs to make an effort to reach them. So, three years ago- Thomas stood up in front of his Soma family and told people he felt led to start this church and a few people in the congregation joined the launch team.
Unsure how to even start this ministry Thomas approached a notorious motel in Fife and asked if he could rent a room and invite guests and people in the general area to come. The manager happened to be a believer and told them the best times and literally opened the doors. The ministry lasted two years at the motel and opened some doors for people, allowing them to experience Jesus in a transforming way. One attendee, a former addict, got out of the life and is now a top salesman for a local auto dealer, and promotes Dope Church wherever he goes. Thomas says, “People don’t want to be a project or part of a checklist that can witnessed to- they want relationship.” And that is what Dope Church strives to do by the Spirit’s prompting.
Currently, the church is building relationships with a homeless encampment on the Puyallup River. They are regularly showing up and providing food and other supplies, while leading a service and getting to know these neighbors. There hope is to eventually have a space, hopefully on Pacific Highway- so there can be a central place and a specific time to allow folks to drop in. Thomas also plans to provide other care at this space for counseling, advocacy and recovery as well. Thomas understands it’s not every congregation’s call to enter into ministry in this way, but he also understands is this is how God has led him. Sometimes “church” in the traditional sense has to break convention and go in dark places, where the Light can often shine the brightest.
If you’d like to support Dope Church in prayer- they ask for protection, wisdom and a property in Fife where they can create a place of welcome and hope for those in need.
-Nathan A. Ryan