By Barbara Nissen, special contributor
Evangel United Methodist Church in Holton had been in decline for 25 years, until five years ago when the congregation decided to choose life over death.
The church’s remarkable turnaround is one of 15 similarly amazing stories featured in a newly released book, “We Refused To Lead a Dying Church,” by Paul Nixon.
|Evangel United Methodist Church in Holton (file photo)|
Instead of dying, the congregation chose to be bold. Rogers said his leadership has been radical, and, while he may be the first one to step out, he said the laity are really the ones to take the bold steps.
When Rogers came to Evangel in 2007, the church was considered a “country club church” and known in the community of 3,300 residents as a church in conflict. The word “evangel” means good news, but five years ago the church appeared to be “bad news.”
Now, after making hard choices and redirecting itself, Evangel is living up to its name, known as a church of good news where members choose to engage in life-giving ministry in the church and in the community.
One of the first steps the congregation took after Rogers challenged them to get healthy was to honestly look at themselves, as well as find out how the church was known and being described by others. The view was pretty dismal, and it unsettled the congregation.
With Rogers’ leadership, members invested themselves in developing a stronger, deeper relationship with Christ. To be a healthy and vital church meant becoming Christians who were a positive force in the community.
Starting in summer 2007, the congregation began looking at their vision, mission and purpose. Engaging the community ranked high. But the question was how to do it? As providence would have it, a horrific ice storm hit Holton that December, shutting down the town for two weeks. Evangel, however, was on a line where electricity was restored within two days. “What can we do for this community?” became a question for the church.
The congregation listened to the Holy Spirit. They set up rooms and meals and invited community members to come and stay or to have a warm meal. Evangel became a community within the community.
“That was the turning point,” Rogers said. “Up to that point, we knew we wanted to be active in the community but didn’t know how it was going to happen. The storm gave us the opportunity to live out what we’d been talking about.”
Other churches pitched in during those cold days. Members of Evangel worked shoulder-to-shoulder with members of other congregations and people from across Holton, fixing three meals a day and serving the needs of the town.
Moving beyond country-club status where members had “privileges,” the congregation realized they could be the church by serving others, and they blossomed. “Let’s do whatever God wants us to do” is making a difference.
Average attendance in 2007 was 187. Last year, it was 353 and continues to increase. The congregation adopted evangelism and made a commitment to be a church making disciples for Christ and to change lives, one life at a time.
Evangel lost members when it decided on a turnaround, but the congregation today is alive and vital.
“We’re a younger church now and very missional,” Rogers said. “People know us as a church into mission.”
They have fun being together and celebrate every success.
“There isn’t much we haven’t been willing to try,” Rogers said.
Sometimes they fail but move on.
They continuously look for ways to serve. With an influx of Hispanics, Evangel dreamed of having an Hispanic pastor, a dream that will come true this year.
Evangel has become the ex-officio community center of Holton. Moreover, a choir that started with 12 children last year now has 120 children enrolled for next year, not just from Evangel but also from other congregations and the community.
Rogers said that while he champions the vision and mission, great lay leaders have developed.
“I give them the ‘why’ but they do the ‘what’ and ‘how,’” Rogers said.
Although Rogers moves to Wichita First UMC this year, he said the congregation is excited about what God has ready for them next. Rev. Dennis Paschke, winner of the 2012 Denman Clergy Award for evangelism, will begin as the congregation’s pastor July 1.