Where Everybody Knows Your Name (and His!)

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By Carl Stagner

Sometimes smaller churches feel like they serve in the shadow of the larger churches around them. But not Washington Avenue Church of God in St. Joseph, Michigan. According to their pastor, Washington Avenue is an intimate community where everybody knows your name. But not just your name. To the post-millennial generation surrounding the church, the name of Jesus Christ is largely unknown. But when these young people walk through the doors of their neighborhood church, they discover the God behind what they’d thought was just an expletive.

This lack of familiarity with Christianity doesn’t hinder outreach, Pastor Andreas
“Andy” Hannich, German-born pastor who attended Fritzlar Bible College, explains. In some ways, it actually helps. Washington Avenue Church of God was originally called German Church of God, and has historically been made up of many of German descent. Though nonexistent, some in the community used to hesitate at the thought of visiting the church for fear of language barriers. Changing the name to Washington Avenue has certainly helped, but not as much as a new outreach to millennials and post-millennials.

Washington_Ave_CHOG_worship_in_park_FORWEBMany of the younger generation in the area simply have no familiarity with church whatsoever. Not only do they have no positive experiences with church; they also have no negative history. The message of Jesus is new and appealing. Still, for many frustrating years, the church tried to reach this group of people to no avail. Then they discovered the power of food.

“We had no youth,” Andy explains. “We tried everything. Then we began offering a meal on Tuesday evenings. Now we have up to ten youth.” For larger churches, this may not be a significant number. But for Washington Avenue, it’s represents a breakthrough. “The meal is a valuable thing to them,” he adds. “So many of these kids don’t have parents at home. They don’t have a regular meal time together. And, they don’t already have a bad conception of church.” Because of Washington Avenue’s smaller size, the church members get to know each of the students by name. Healthy community between the church members, and between their next-door neighbors, is on the rise.

“It starts in the church. Often Sunday is the only time we see each other,” Andy explains. “In this time of history, we are so ripped apart as a society. But in the Bible, we see that the first church had a beautiful community.”

Andy has found that advertising community events with signs and flyers only goes so far. He takes prayer walks through the neighborhood, stopping to talk with people who are out and about. Making these kind of personal connections has made the difference, especially when doing special events like the church just held in mid-September.

“Kickoff Sunday” brought the people outside the church building to worship in their neighborhood park. They brought in a bounce house, snow cone machine, plenty of food, and other special features for a day of worship and fellowship with each other and the neighbors. Also in September, the church celebrated new life through services of baptism and baby dedication.

New names written in the Book of Life. A name dedicated to the Lord. Names of young and old, from multiple cultures, serving the Name Above All Names. Though many may not have been able to name this smaller church from St. Joseph, Michigan, a closer look at the community-building focus of Washington Avenue Church of God reveals a body of believers determined to truly know Christ and make him known.

Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.

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