Wonders in West Liberty: Unconventional Approach Yields Unbelievable Harvest
By Carl Stagner
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, bystanders were quick to dismiss such incredible signs and wonders as nothing more than a little early-morning inebriation. Of course, those who heard the gospel in their own language knew there was something supernatural happening—they were firsthand witnesses to the very power of God. For the past several years at a Church of God tucked away in a west-central Ohio neighborhood, something supernatural has also been taking place. Bystanders don’t readily understand it; some have dismissed it as a fad, or even a cult. But the life change among hundreds in the community speaks for itself, and the unconventional approach of West Liberty First Church of God continues to yield an unbelievable, yet undeniable harvest.
From the southeast corner of Liberty and Leonard Streets in West Liberty, Ohio, the Church of God building rises modestly in the midst of the surrounding structures. Enter through the double glass doors off Liberty Street and you won’t be welcomed by an impressive lobby, spacious square footage, or flashy media. By most measurements, nothing seems particularly special about the facility. But that’s not what’s extraordinary about West Liberty First Church of God, at all. What sets the 126-year-old ministry apart from so much of the modern church in America today is the present work of the Spirit in each of their gatherings. Don’t pay any undue attention to the building, though, as Pastor Nate Wilcoxon reflects, “I don’t even like saying this is the house of the Lord. You’re the household of faith. You’re the temple of the Lord. Jesus Christ reigns inside of us, and ultimately we’re his sanctuary.”
Instead, attend the free weekly breakfast on Sunday mornings at 8:30, one of the worship services, recovery groups, Sunday school, or one of the groups for men or women, and you’ll see what the congregation already knows: this isn’t your typical church. Consider the lack of formal structure, the simplicity of programming, and the singular focus of the church’s messaging—from the pulpit to the old-fashioned pews. Yet, there’s nothing old-fashioned about timely application of the teaching throughout the week at West Liberty First Church of God in lifestyle and community outreach, and you might be surprised to learn that the song selection is almost exclusively contemporary. Jeans and T-shirts are standard attire, and tattoos are as common as beat-up Bibles. A sermon series tying Scripture to the latest trending TikTok videos or what some celebrity pastor wrote in a bestselling book are about as likely to appear at West Liberty First Church of God as a summertime snowflake falling from the sky in Yuma, Arizona. God’s Word is the basis for this church’s ministry, and the need for repentance of sin echoed weekly from the platform. And that’s admittedly uncomfortable for some.
“We often have people come to visit who want a traditional church experience,” Nate explains. “They want to be spoon-fed. They’ll say, ‘Man, this is strong in here.’ But we’re not about offering milk here. We’re eating T-bones. Sure, there’s a growth time of people maturing spiritually but, like my English bulldogs puppies after week eight, once they mature they’re not going back to milk!”
Those who don’t know Brother Nate’s style—his long hair, his casual dress, and how he wears his emotions on his sleeve—might be caught off-guard, at first glance, but those who take the time to know the man behind the beard soon recognize his down-to-earth authenticity and genuine love for people. Sure, his preaching is notably bold, but with a message like the gospel comes power, not timidity.
“Some people may say I’m narcissistic because of my boldness,” Nate reflects. “But I just tell it like it is. I don’t care what everybody else is doing. After all, I see the fruit of this ministry. The drunkard ain’t drunk no more. The guy that was addicted to porn’s not addicted to porn anymore. The gal that had cancer doesn’t have cancer anymore because we anointed and prayed for her.”
It wasn’t that long ago when West Liberty First Church of God only had about a dozen in attendance on Sunday mornings. A Spirit-led turnaround began about six-and-a-half years ago as the congregation began to get back to the basics, removing roadblocks and hurdles to growth, and simplifying the way they “did church.” Without clocks on the wall, Sunday services may last longer than traditional churchgoers are used to, but the agenda belongs not to the worship team, not to the board of trustees, and not to the pastor. The agenda is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and West Liberty First Church of God is quite satisfied with that arrangement. The altars are full every Sunday, and everybody knows not to wait until the end of the service to approach the front. If the Spirit moves, they go. Brother Nate even teaches that the altar call begins at the start of the service. Since the turnaround began—what some on the outside might consider revival—the church has baptized an estimated 400 to 500 people and Sunday morning attendance has swelled, at times, to 300. Maybe their effective approach shouldn’t be so unconventional.
“When this whole thing blew up,” Nate recalls, “I never sat there and thought, ‘Well, how did all this happen?’ I’ve not wanted to limit God in anything. I just know that, if we believe what the Word says, and we surrender the ‘I’ out of everything, that’s where the power is. We want to make this about Jesus. I shout this stuff. It’s about him—it never has been about you. Jesus came up with the rescue plan and made it all possible. If you don’t like it, get over you. You’re the problem. Remember, Jesus didn’t say deny the devil. He said deny yourself!”
West Liberty First Church of God hasn’t unearthed a well-kept secret about church revitalization. They consider what they’re doing to be simple obedience to the Scriptures, which cannot be accomplished without total surrender. They say they want to get out of the way so Jesus can have his way. In so doing, they acknowledge that following Jesus does cost something, which not every local church is willing to pay.
“Is this revival?” Nate thoughtfully repeats the question when asked about what’s really happening in West Liberty, Ohio. “Revival means bringing back to life,” he replies. “Through the new birth, we’ve all been revived. This may not be revival like when God moves through town and all the people leave the bars and run to the church. People also think of revival as a three-day event that man plans and is in charge of. In this place, I wouldn’t call it revival. To me, this looks like normal Christianity. This is what Christianity is really like. God just wants our obedience. ‘Can you handle that, Nate?’ ‘Yep, Lord, here I am, send me!’”
Read our March 2018 article about the incredible work of the Lord at West Liberty First Church of God. The work continues!
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Nate Wilcoxon (right) rejoices in one of hundreds of baptisms.