POST FALLS — Real Life Ministries wants to align needs in the community with the gospel.
The nondenominational Christian church, one of the largest churches in the region, soon plans to construct an estimated $9 million worth of improvements, including a 41,000-square-foot fieldhouse with three basketball courts, an outdoor artificial turf sports complex that will be a first in the area, a 25,000-square-foot children's addition and more.
The outreach will start with children and young families, said Jim Putman, senior pastor.
"We have a lot of passion for reaching kids in the community," Putman said. "We've noticed the suicides and drug and alcohol issues with kids.
"We also understand that people move to North Idaho because of sports and outdoors; there's a shortage of sportsfields in this area, and if kids don't have things to do, they'll find something to do."
Eddie Bateman, hired to lead the church's sports and outdoors ministry, said construction is expected to start later this summer or fall.
"We're hoping to be done in one year with everything," he said.
Bateman said the ministry strives to connect passion to purpose. Coaches will be trained to create a culture of player development that goes beyond sports.
"Sports had a major impact on my life, which is why I am here in North Idaho," he said. "I am still tapping into many of those principles today as a result of those who invest in me. It truly excites me to know that we will be able to provide similar experiences for kids and adults and, more importantly, attach them to a greater purpose."
Both Bateman and Putman wrestled at North Idaho College.
While the facilities will be open to the church's ministries first, the plan is to use them as well for other community programs as time and space allow. The area for Genesis Prep Academy, a private school that leases space from the church and won the State 1A Division II boys basketball title in March, is being expanded as part of the improvements.
"Our hope is that we can partner with other community groups and programs," Putman said.
The fieldhouse with three gyms is needed because area teams are traveling to Spokane for gym space and many kids get cut from their school teams, Putman said.
"There's a huge shortage of such facilities in our area," he said. "We want to create options for these kids to have another place to go where they'll have coaching."
The two lighted artificial turf fields will be geared toward soccer, flag football and other sports. A flag football league is starting this fall.
"The programming will start small, then we'll build them from there," Putman said.
Putman said North Idaho's long winters and wet springs can wreak havoc on grass fields when teams are hoping to get games and practices in, so the artificial turf fields will help in that regard.
The new children's ministry wing will be added to the east side of the largest building on the campus where the main services are held. It will include a large indoor play structure.
"Right now our young families are having to walk all over campus (to admit them to Sunday school or childcare) and, because of safety issues, we want them all in the same building," Putman said.
Plans also call for improving the sound of the worship facility, which has been used as a multi-purpose building, and remodeling two other buildings. Construction on one of the remodels has already started. Enterprise Road between Cecil Road and Highway 41 will be expanded to 16th Street to allow for another access point to the campus.
Programs for music and the arts, outdoors and scouting will also be developed and use the facilities, Putman said.
"We recognize that not everyone are jocks," he said.
The improvements are part of the church's mission to connect people and real life with Jesus, Putman said.
"We're not trying to make sports a god," he said. "For us, everything is about connecting people with Christ. We want to stay aligned with the needs of the community."
Several years ago, Putman wrote a book called "Church is a Team Sport."
"We are a spiritual family with a purpose," he said. "Fundamentals are the key to winning in any sport. It is the same with Christianity."
With heroin usage, pornography and suicide on the rise, the expansion is part of the church's answer to help families, Putman said.
"We see what's going on in our culture, and it's breaking our heart," Putman said.
Putman said the church has about $2.2 million in the bank for the expansion.
"Our people have been faithful financially in past expansions and we are confident they'll continue to be as we move forward," Putman said.
Other funding sources will include leases for the facilities, a loan and monthly endowment payments it receives.
The church had excess land on the market for several years that remained unsold. In 2011 and 2013, RLM entered into real estate agreements with The Solomon Foundation in which the church transferred the unused and excess land into an endowment in return for monthly payments that will run in perpetuity.
Real Life had a humble start with a few families — the "backyard bunch" — praying together 19 years ago.
"They didn't even have a video projector let alone money to buy a building," he said. "But what they had was the right place to start — the Bible — and a love for one another."
Today, about 5,000 people attend weekly services at its Post Falls campus. Many attend weekly "life group" meetings in homes for Bible study, prayer and fellowship.
The church has started churches in Coeur d'Alene, Spokane Valley, north Spokane, the Silver Valley, Moscow, Newport, Wash., and other areas in recent years. It plans to start a church in Spirit Lake on Sept. 17.