Two Struggling Churches Find Answers in One Another
By Jaymie Dieterle
Coming into 2020, First Church of God in Alton, Illinois, had an average Sunday attendance of eighteen to twenty people. They knew that something had to change in order for them to survive. Across the state line in Missouri, the West Alton church had a different sort of problem. Nestled between two rivers, the West Alton building was a frequent victim of flooding. The church had experienced several significant floods that forced them into expensive remodeling and repairs. With an average Sunday attendance of about fifty people, they had a solid congregation. They just needed a building in a better location.
The two churches found their hope and the solution to their problems in one another.
“For one weekend, we were the fastest growing church in Illinois,” joked congregant Rev. Randy Butler. In early 2020, before they ever heard the term “COVID-19,” the two congregations merged. The West Alton church had the people and the Alton church had the building. “Merging was easy. The two congregations had similar worship styles. We used to have ‘singspirations’ together. And many in the West Alton congregation already lived in Illinois,” said Rev. Butler. “They would drive by the Illinois church to get to their home congregation in Missouri.” Now those folks would worship together.
Regional pastor for the Church of God in Illinois, Eric Livingston was at the celebration of the merger. “The two churches merging made so much sense,” he said. “Standing alone, each church was a good church, but coming together has really made them a great church with more possibilities. Regional Pastor Howard Megill from Missouri and I both were at the celebration service of the merger and shared in the excitement of the two churches coming together.” Pastor Effie Gibbs pastors the Alton congregation. Pastor Kelvin Lustick was the pastor of the West Alton congregation, and he retired after the merger.
Rev. Butler indicated that with the merger the church is hoping to grow and attract new families to the church. Eventually, they would like to bring on a youth or children’s pastor. “God is working in the ministry of the congregation. We are seeing answers to prayer. Without this merger, two churches would have died. Now we have new opportunities for evangelism in this community.”
Jaymie Dieterle is a freelance writer with a passion for books, reading, and life-long learning. She enjoys writing adult small group and Sunday school curriculum for Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press). Jaymie and her family live in Anderson, Indiana, and they are actively involved at Madison Park Church of God.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
*Feature (top) photo: Fred Wright, Illionis credentials chair, offers prayer at merger celebration.