Bethany Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey, began in 1911 when a group gathered in a home to pray. The church has continued to grow from that foundation for more than a century, and now has six locations in the North Jersey area, including a Spanish-language congregation in Union, New Jersey.
Bethany’s lead pastor John S. James, 44, is no stranger to the church. His father, Don A. James, now the New Jersey Ministry Network superintendent, pastored the church for 34 years beginning in 1986.
During his freshman year at Southeastern University, John met Susie Jones. The couple married as soon as they graduated in 2000, and are now parents to three boys: Sammy, 12;, Stephen, 9; and J.P., 5.
After serving as Bethany youth pastor for eight years, James in 2010 became campus pastor at the church’s new plant in Washington Township, launched with the assistance from the AG’s Church Multiplication Network. After a while, the growing church needed more space. However, suitable property is scarce in the New York City suburb, where land sells for around $1 million an acre.
Yet in 2017 the church managed to purchase the former 88,000-square-foot Jewish Community Center on 10 acres when it became available for a reasonable price.
“Every square inch of the building needed to be renovated, and it is still a work in progress,” James says. “We are on the final stretch.”
Immediately, church leaders decided that the building would house not only the church, but also a community center. Former corporate accountant Bliss C. Varughese, 45, joined the staff as director of the center.
Bethany Community Center officially opened in 2018 and Bethany Church Washington Township campus relocated there, even though myriad needed renovations remained. Varughese, 45, says God’s favor has been obvious on multiple occasions. For instance, last September the building flooded after Hurricane Ida, causing over $500,000 in damage. Only three months earlier, the church purchased a specific policy for flood insurance. Repairs took place simultaneously with necessary updating in those areas.
“Sometimes things don’t make sense and we don’t see the good at that moment,” says Varughese. “But the Lord can use those things to bring forth His purpose.”
Bethany added new ministries and services as additional areas of the building opened. Besides the auditorium, there is a well-equipped 9,000-square-foot gymnasium available for sports activities, as well as meeting rooms, and multipurpose rooms. All these spaces can be rented for parties, conferences, training meetings, and other activities.
Many groups and organizations take advantage of the clean and safe location to offer events and programs to the community. Basketball, pickleball, soccer, boxing, and martial arts are some of the sports-related options currently available. Organized group fitness, basketball and volleyball leagues, as well as music classes are also on the schedule. The facility also contains an Olympic-size swimming pool for community lessons, lap swim, and water aerobics classes. Public and private swim teams use the pool for practices.
Both James and Varughese cite the reconnection of church and community as goals for the center. They see relationships being built within the community as people come in to participate in programs, classes and other activities.
“It is about access to souls,” says Varughese. “God is calling churches in the United States to become missional again.”
“We hope to create a viable Business as Mission model with Bethany Community Center, to help other churches who want to do something similar,” James says.
James became senior pastor at Bethany Church in 2020 when his father stepped down. Patrick Dell’Aquila, 33, followed him as the campus pastor for the Washington Township campus meeting in the Bethany Community Center.
Plans are underway for a community garden, specifically targeting seniors. Socio-economic development classes are also planned. A preschool is in the works, and the Catalyst Café is being built to serve coffee, breakfast, and lunch.
Varughese encourages members of the church to use their skills or offer their services using the facilities, providing another way to build vital relationships.
Nancy Lopez-Cottrell, Bethany’s office manager, has been at the church for over 20 years.
“The most important aspect of the community center, is that it is a perfect extension of the work the church does,” says Lopez-Cottrell. “It’s a perfect avenue to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”