Congregation Known for Unique Weekly Schedule Turns 15

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes, Loving and Serving

By Kim Ousley

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.” —Romans 14:5 NLT

One Church of God congregation in Vincennes, Indiana, is unlike most churches in one way that is especially obvious. Instead of Sunday mornings, they gather for weekly worship on Thursday evenings. Even more unique, they host a French creole service on a Sunday mornings! Thursday Church’s neighborhood demographic is low-income, but they’re blessed to serve those most churches might not ever see enter the front doors.

“We recently celebrated our fifteenth anniversary as a church in January,” said Pastor Debbie Salters. Pastor Debbie helped launch the ministry with twelve fellow disciples; a modest-size group, for sure. But now they meet regularly in an old Montgomery Ward building which, at first, hadn’t been touched in over fifty years. With blood, sweat and yes, tears, she said they learned how to do everything needed to turn this building into a comfortable church setting.

Worship band at Thursday Church.

Originally, Pastor Debbie was a part of a long-established Church of God congregation. She approached the board and asked if she could put together a community event; her own boys were part of an event in Arizona many years ago featuring the Power Team, body builders who perform feats of strength and tell of their love for Christ.

“It took about one-and-a-half years to plan the event, and quite a bit of money,” said Salters. “There were about 1,200 people out of a community of 18,000 that gave their lives to Christ during that week!”

Back in 2006, before this event, she felt like most of the local churches were not connecting well with the dominant demographic of the low-income neighborhood. It soon became apparent that only a few families came to church after the event, and even they didn’t stay long. Why was that? What could the churches do different to help new people in Christ feel comfortable in a church building and during worship?

Salters once again approached the board and asked if she could interview those 1,200 folks, since there were cards with their information provided on them, and ask what they felt they needed to attend church.

“What I came up with is five top, basic reasons, like the church setting was a bit too fancy for them.” The demographics identified included primarily those living in poverty and low-income housing. Their clothes were more likely to be tattered, unwashed, and perhaps out of place for the “fancy” atmosphere of the church building. Others indicated that, on Sundays, many had to work—or it was family time, as many of them were divorced or single parents wanting to spend quality time with children. Ironically, parents are often separated intentionally from their parents on Sunday morning.

The last common bit of feedback was that the services lasted far too long. Salters admits her past congregation would go from an hour-and-a-half to as much as an hour and forty-five minutes. Also, common “churchy” words like narthex and hymnal, as well as other religious terms were uncomfortably unfamiliar with the demographic they hoped to reach.

Pastor Debbie Salters

No one wants to feel out of place, especially at church. “Here at Thursday Church, everyone can be comfortable and have things explained in a way they can understand,” Salters explained. Of course, there are challenges in the dynamics of the service, as some of the attendees may suffer from certain mental illness and might be more prone to causing disruption. It’s not always easy ministering to “the least of these,” but it’s worth it for Thursday Church to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment.

“You could have a CEO of a company or a millionaire sitting next to a homeless person during service. And that’s because they are passionate about what we are doing,” said Salters.

Over the past fifteen years, the church has created three businesses to help with other ministries both within the community and overseas in twenty-eight separate countries. There’s Gracie’s Restaurant, a thrift store, and The Faith Store. Each one hits all the demographics, said Salters.

There’s also an outdoor food pantry once per month hosted by Thursday Church. Pastor Debbie laughed as she shared how they take part on Memorial Day with the local Civil War re-enactment, too.

Salters said she had no clue what God was asking of her when he wanted her to start a church. But now its noticeably clear: God wanted her to live out what he asks of everyone—to reach everyone for Christ.

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

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