“Got faith? Maine the least religious state in the nation.” The Bangor Daily News recently published that story about changing religious views in Maine, citing several polls. FEC leaders and church planters Eric and Mandy Wood believed that Maine was ripe for outreach. At a time when many churches in Maine are declining in attendance or closing their doors, Neighbors Church is on the rise.

In 2014, Neighbors Church began in a downtown Portland building, and Eric and Mandy served the refugee population and the growing number of homeless drug addicts. Two years later, Eric decided to try out a local Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym to help him manage stress and improve fitness. The first week he left with a sore shoulder and a bruised rib. Over time, he gained confidence and made friends. Soon, he was driving people to their fights. When the gym went up for sale, Eric and a friend decided to buy it.

Now, the gym serves as the missionary side of ministry and the church rents the space on Sunday morning. After they clear the gym and clean sweat and blood off of the floor, Sundays take on a simple feel. However, what makes Neighbors Church unique can’t be found on Sunday morning. Eric describes their mission, “Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s a good place to start. And, neighbor doesn’t define a certain person. It describes everyone.” That vision resonates with those who identify with Neighbors Church, since about 50% who come are new in their understanding of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

One example of Neighbors loving neighbors involved a refugee woman whose husband had left her. She had endured 30 surgeries for a knee replacement that created an allergic reaction. When her washer broke, someone at Neighbors Church bought her a new washer.

Another example of Neighbors loving neighbors involved a woman who works out at the gym. She had confided in Mandy that her family had a large bill that they couldn’t pay. When the church gave her the money, she said, “You don’t know us that well. We aren’t a part of your church.”

Even though Eric and Mandy are building relationships through the MMA gym, pioneering a new church creates financial, emotional, and spiritual strain for marriages and families. Eric describes a pioneering outreach when he says, “We have been alone. Even though people love pioneers, behind the pioneer’s beginning and a future outcome is a story that doesn’t exist yet. We all take cuts from thorns as we blaze the new trail. The cost has to be counted up front. Trailblazing is hard on marriages and families.” Follow Neighbors Church on Facebook and pray for Eric and Mandy Wood and their three children as they take the gospel to Portland, Maine.