Garage Church

Family / June 25, 2018

Restoration one life at a time

Hot Springs, Ark. is a city bursting at the seams with hidden treasures. We’ve got the interesting history, the bath houses and hot springs, and we’ve got the lakes and the national park. A treasure of a different variety was born in Hot Springs eight years ago in the form of Garage Church, now located at 122 Sanford St.

The church began as a simple six-person gathering at the home of Mike and Deby Prince on Sunday nights.

Mike has been a pastor for around 30 years now, he said. He and his wife, Deby, moved to Hot Springs and an opportunity arose for them to begin their own ministry here in the form of helping the needy, the less fortunate, the struggling, and those who have fallen into poverty.

“We came here and we kind of had one direction in mind, and it wasn’t the poverty thing, but pretty quickly it became apparent to me that that’s who we were reaching. So, primarily, I would say that if you’re not hurting, you’re probably not somebody that’s in our target. We’re trying to work with folks that really are in poverty and who are struggling to stay clean and sober,” Mike said, adding that the church’s doors are open to everyone.

Where did the name Garage Church come from? That question was at the very top of the list of questions I hoped to have answered during my interview with the members of the church, to which Mike responded, “Well, I’m so glad you asked.”

Deby Prince, left, Pastor Mike Prince, and Dian Glover

“You know how you see an old car or an old truck in a field and it’s rusty and beat up and ugly and you’re like, ‘Get rid of that,’ but a car person might look at that and say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a treasure, it just needs to be restored.’ Sometimes our lives are beat up and rusty and look a mess to a lot of people, but God looks at that and says, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re wonderful,’ and a restoration happens,” Deby said.

The church’s tag line is “Restoring the city to God one life at at time,” and Mike said, “Our goal is to become a complete restoration shop. We want to address every area of people’s lives.”

Garage Church welcomes those from every walk of life. The church was nominated for Organization of the Year in the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Community Service Awards.

Mike describes the church as “an upside down church” because of its very non-traditional way of doing things.

For one, there is no church service on Sunday morning; regular services are held on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. And, if you’re looking for a traditional sanctuary complete with church pews, you won’t find that within the walls of Garage Church. They’ve traded in pews for round tables and chairs, giving each service a more personal feel.

Each service is interactive. Members and guests are given Bible studies a week ahead of time and Sunday and Wednesday night services are used for discussion.

“I don’t make speeches — it’s all question-based. They had a week to look at the study and then we’ll table-talk it,” Mike said. “So, I may ask a question and we may take a minute to table-talk it. People seem to really like that.”

Each table of five or six people are given a chance to discuss the material with others at their table, affording everyone a chance to talk if they wish to do so, something they may not have had in a bigger group setting.

We’re just a house church that got too big to meet in a house.

Even more than that, though, Garage Church is an “upside down church” because most of the outreach occurs outside of normal church hours and, a lot of the time, outside the walls of the church.

“Most people have a big gathering and then they have a smaller crowd to come to Sunday school, and an even smaller crowd that comes back on Sunday night. We have about 50 who come together on Sunday night, but we have about 375 that we teach during the week,” Mike said.

Garage Church leaders and volunteers spend the entire week ministering to those in programs, shelters and treatment centers such as Samaritan Ministries, Potter’s Clay Ministries, Shalom Women’s Center, and Quapaw House, and a lot of their ministry takes place inside the Garland County Detention Center.

And they don’t just teach lessons directly from the Bible; some of the classes offered by Garage Church include anger management classes; Love and Logic, a parenting class; Faith and Finance; Getting Ahead While Getting Out and Getting Ahead in Just a Getting By World classes; Authentic Manhood, which is part of Men’s Fraternity; women’s classes; and adult literacy classes, to name a few.

Over 3,000 individuals have registered in the church’s anger management program in the past seven years.

“We do a lot of mentoring. We really think it’s kind of hard to change lives in mass production. We think it’s about rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives,” Mike said.

“Since we work in jails so much we began to build real meaningful relationships with the inmates out there,” he added.

Because of these relationships, Garage Church started a ministry writing letters to inmates.

“I had helped Mike from the beginning and I just thought, I don’t want to lose contact with these people. I thought it was important to keep encouraging them,” said Dian Glover, one of the church members. “So we talked about it and then Mike kind of brought it to the church. It’s kind of like a pen pal; we send them our Bible study that we do on Sunday nights here in the church and then try to add in a few words of encouragement. So it’s a weekly thing, and they write back.”

Dian also serves as the keyboardist in the church’s worship band.

Everyone in the church is given the opportunity to write letters to the inmates. According to Mike, over 20 volunteers write about 44 letters per week.

The importance of these relationships with the inmates was perfectly demonstrated during my interview with Mike, Deby and Dian when Mike received a phone call from the girlfriend of an inmate who is involved in the letter-writing program.

“He just got moved to Malvern and he wanted her to call us and make sure we knew he was in a different place now, because he’s one of the ones that we write to,” Mike said.

“We’re not really a traditional church. We’re not trying to say to the whole world, ‘Y’all come to the Garage Church.’ We’re trying to build relationships with people and out of that have people feel like they want to come to the Garage Church,” he added. “We’re just a house church that got too big to meet in a house.”

The story of how the church came to be in its current location is an amazing story in itself.

“When we bought this place, there wasn’t a room in here that you would have used for anything. It smelled so bad, the rats had literally moved in, and you couldn’t walk behind the building because the homeless people were camping out behind there and leaving mounds of trash,” Mike said.

The restoration of the building began in April 2017. Everyone from church members to ex-offenders worked tirelessly to get the building back in working order.

“I would say that this building is a testimony to the resilience of our community. People just came from everywhere to help us,” Mike said. “The actual people of Garage Church are just part of the story of Garage Church. At Garage Church, our focus is really on giving to the community but in the process, the community has given to us.”

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Photography by Grace Brown

Lindsey Wells

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June 25, 2018