Relaunched: Texas Church Celebrates New Identity, Bright Future
By Brian Ramsey
Christians savor words like transformation, rebirth, change, and growth, because they are often in juxtaposition with all the beauty of the gospel, how it takes away the old and brings in the new. Only God knows how to really create that in a way that leaves us astounded and in awe of his glory—giving praise to his sovereignty, wisdom, and love. Of course, God is not limited to reveal this wonder in people only, and that is what the congregation of the former First Church of God in Tyler, Texas, now understands. The old things (branding, name, signage, and ways of doing things) have passed away. The church building, though updated, still stands as the appropriate gathering place, but the newly formed congregation now called Living Grace Church has gloriously discovered what transformation, rebirth, and change is all about. They called it their relaunch, and the story is inspirational.
Dr. Ken Merrifield is the senior pastor of this flock, and his description of the journey suggests an excellent insight of what relaunching is: “There are too many pieces in the puzzle for anyone to get glory except the Lord. What we [saw] is that, when an older congregation chooses to give up older traditions and embrace new methods, new people and new ideas, then God may bless this sacrifice with his surprising presence…. As Paul taught, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Cor 1:25 BSB).”
From the beginning, God knew he was going to change the church, and his preparation began in the lives and hearts of people. Pastor Merrifield served in several capacities at his home church, New Life Bible Fellowship, in Dallas. He spent ten years on the mission field in Romania and also lived in the poorest county of the USA, ministering the Bible to nearly 3,000 children (and families) in the Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia areas near the coal mines.
A desire to move back to Texas to be closer to family led him to contact Tim West, regional pastor, who connected Ken and his wife Janet to a church facing distinction. It was a small congregation of some twenty people (an aging population) who had a heart for God, but faced the future with little resources. After much prayer, the Merrifields sold their home in Tennessee and purchased the parsonage in Tyler, giving the church some money for renovations and operations. With little understanding of what was ahead but with a lot of faith in God, the people worked hard to update the building, update the technology, and then ask God what was next.
While at a conference, Tim West introduced Pastor Ken to Dan Turner, who had relaunched the National Memorial Church of God (now Northwest Community Church) in our nation’s capital and who had written a book on how to relaunch a church. “I had planted several churches in the past, but this is quite different,” notes Ken, “and we did not know we were about to have a funeral—for our church.”
Turner became a consultant for the church through donated funds, and the Tyler leadership yielded complete control to the newly formed board composed of outsiders. Other people and organizations came alongside the group, and in time, with Turner’s coaching, Ken’s encouraging leadership and God’s grace, the church was able to navigate the process. In order to enter into the proper transition, the group scheduled a funeral service in December 2019 to celebrate the great past of the First Church of God in Tyler and to pronounce it—well, dead. The next several weeks, the church went dark by removing signage and entering into a time of transition. In January of the following year, (2020) an exciting relaunch service was held, and the church became Living Grace Church.
Those who were there that day will remember the 107 people who crammed into the auditorium that seats 75 (pre-pandemic), the special speakers, the representatives from other churches that had helped, the excitement of new opportunities and the new faces that have now become a vital core in the culture and lifeblood of the ministry of Living Grace. You see, while God was preparing this process, he had his eye upon a large group of younger, Hispanic families that had left their former church and were looking for the right place to serve. God brought them to Living Grace through a series of connections, and Pastor Ken notes that it gives him total joy to be training the next generation to walk in discipleship with one another.
Dr. Ken Merrifield has served in some difficult places and situations, but he says that it all prepared him for the greatest challenge of his life—relaunching Living Grace Church. “Our generation provides the coaching, and the next generation have become the players,” he says. What is next for this new ministry? Well, God will continue to build upon his work of radical change both in the building of the church and in the lives of those who seek him there.
Dr. Brian Ramsey resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife of thirty-six years, Tammy, who has taught as a Kindergarten teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson for over twenty-five years. He has two married children and four grandchildren—all girls, and their wishes have absolutely no extra control over him. He currently works with his son who owns a magazine, and he writes for various entities. He is very involved in his church in the Soul Care Ministry, and he loves to read, watch and play sports, and teach college classes.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.