In the 10 years since its inception, Real Life Ministries’ congregation has grown from four people to nearly 7,500, prompting the nondenominational Christian church to seek more space on the Rathdrum Prairie for an expansive campus.
The church, which claims to be the largest in the Inland Northwest if not the Pacific Northwest, is asking Kootenai County for a conditional-use permit to build a 3,500-seat worship center, children’s ministry, 300-seat chapel, field house and athletic fields on 116 acres east of state Highway 41, at the corner of Meyer Road and Wyoming Avenue.
Senior Pastor Jim Putman envisions a full-service campus that will benefit Kootenai County, including non-members, by providing a large facility for graduations and other public events and ballfields for children.
“We have a big dream and want to do things for this county,” Putman said.
The church’s current complex is within the Post Falls city limits off Cecil Road. Space is limited for the 7,500 people who attend weekend services. That number ballooned to 12,000 on Easter.
Besides ministry, Real Life provides a large addiction recovery service, as well as food and a thrift store to help struggling families. Putman said the church fed 7,500 families last year.
He said the church plans to sell a portion of its undeveloped property on Cecil Road but will keep the buildings until the new complex is built. At that point, the church will assess its congregation size and decide whether to sell the facilities or keep them and run a split campus.
The proposed site of the new campus is bluegrass fields owned by farmer Walt Meyer, who said in a letter to the county that he thinks the church is the best use of the land and would “preserve open space and set a standard” on the prairie.
A hearing examiner recommended approval of the project in January. The Kootenai County Commission was scheduled to make a final decision in February but instead opted to have another public hearing, which is set for April 25.
“We wanted to give people appropriate time to provide information,” Commission Chairman Rick Currie said. “That’s so we can make a good decision.”
The only opposition the church has heard is from the neighboring cities of Post Falls and Hayden, which argue that the county should wait to give approval until a sewer master plan study for the prairie is done. The study will show how best to provide sewer hookups on the prairie, which sits above the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for more than 500,000 people.
“The city believes that permitting these larger uses on the prairie without the benefit of municipal wastewater service is not in the public’s interest,” wrote Post Falls Senior Planner Collin Coles in an Oct. 26 letter.
Putman said the church is willing to hook to sewer as soon as it becomes available and that septic tanks could sustain the facilities until the sewer plan is complete.
The Panhandle Health District commented that the property has the capacity to handle the equivalent of 23 residential septic tanks. The district only allows one septic system on every five acres above the aquifer.
Putman said it could take 25 years to complete the new campus, which is planned as 10 buildings with a total of 458,000 square feet of space. It’s organized around a village green that could include a two-acre artificial lake, two miles of trails and an amphitheater, in addition to a 3,500-space parking lot.
“God’s just doing some cool stuff,” Putman said.