Slow, Steady, and Sure: Illinois Church Celebrates Transformative Turnaround
By Mark Butzow
Part of a state pastor’s job is working with struggling churches and, naturally, they become aware that some seem to be beyond recovery. Eric Livingston, state pastor for Illinois Ministries of the Church of God, admits he had Dixon’s Lincoln Avenue Church of God on that list when he took the job fourteen years ago. “I remember meeting with them and thinking this church is not going to make it,” he said.
But by God’s grace, that church did survive, and Livingston recently helped the congregation dedicate a roomy new church facility with almost 250 people in attendance! “Dixon is one of the best comeback stories that I’ve ever heard or seen.”
Much of that turnaround can be credited to the leadership of Pastor Mike Worrell, a Dixon native and product of the church, and his wife Carrie, whose parents Bill and Caroline Pentecost are well known for pastoring in Michigan, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, and Indiana.
“Mike grew up in the Lincoln Avenue church,” Livingston explains. “He and Carrie were serving a Missouri church, both on the staff” when they learned of the plight of Mike’s boyhood church and felt called to return to Dixon and try to save the church. “I just saw the sacrifice that Mike and Carrie were willing to make because God had called them.”
That was twelve years ago, and the work to grow the church has been slow but steady. “I watched as they continued to make the best, right next steps,” said Livingston.
As Lincoln Avenue grew over the past decade and started adding activities and ministries for youth and children, it became clear to them their building was holding them back. “It was a nice church but a little small, with no dedicated space for kids and youth,” Mike Worrell says, adding “bathrooms were downstairs and at the end other than the fellowship hall.”
Mike’s full-time job is at Sauk Valley Community College west of Dixon, and he noticed a neighboring building six or seven years ago that had been a surgical center but was put up for sale. He took a look at the time, but the church wasn’t in a position to act—yet.
Several years later, a member who’d moved away, passed away, leaving the church one-fourth of his estate. That sum allowed Lincoln Avenue to turn once again to thoughts of a bigger home. “We just believed through the whole time that God would come through,” Mike said.
That former surgical center was still on the market, and the seller added several acres to the deal when the church bought it. “God has been conveying on me that he’s got something big planned for this church.”
The longtime Lincoln Avenue building was sold at the end of 2021, and the church began meeting in a community building while plans for renovating the new building and then construction got under way. COVID-related supply chain issues slowed that work, originally estimated at six months, and it was thirteen months later, on January 8, the newly named Grace Point Church held its first service in its new location.
Mike Worrell said the name comes from Titus 3:7 (“Because of his grace, he made us right in his sight” NLT). “Grace is the point. There’s need in the area of lost people who need hope,” he said, offering examples of broken relationships, addiction, and pain.
“We are restarting a lot of ministries that we had to curtail in this year we were without a space,” Mike said. While work continues to finish off areas for children and student ministries, Grace Point is getting comfortable holding Sunday services in its large, new auditorium, a place where pastor Eric Livingston definitely felt the presence of God.
“I pray this church,” Livingston said, “will serve as a place where many are saved from their life of pain and suffering by experiencing the redeeming power of Jesus Christ.”
Mark Butzow operates Mark My Words Ink, a freelance writing and editing service, and is a former journalism instructor, broadcast journalist, newspaper reporter, and copy editor. He lives in Madison County, Indiana, with his wife, a first-grade teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Grace Point facility.