By Emily Ploetz
On a map of South Dakota, the town of Marion may not catch your eye. The whole community consists of about 800 people total. However, First Church of God in Marion, and its impact on God’s kingdom, should capture your attention. Out of the 800 residents of Marion, 125 of them attend the church! A church with an influence over the majority of a town isn’t something you see every day. The town and the church have a unique background and, because of some key decisions they’ve made, First Church of God continues to be a shining light.
Marion has a long history as a German town. The German influences were evident, especially in the church. According to Pastor Scott Dent, First Church of God in Marion has been a part of the town for over 100 years. Originally, the services were once in the German language. After about fifty years, the church transitioned from German to English. As Pastor Dent says, “The willingness to change has been a key element into the success of this ministry.” The church not only decided to change languages, but also moved from the country to the edge of town. This flexibility has set apart the First Church of God in Marion from other churches in the area.
One of the strongest focuses of the church is its programs for children and youth. In an age where younger generations seem less attracted to the church, Wednesday night children’s services are the highlight of the week. The church uses the Awana program that introduces children to new Scripture, while making it a part of their lives. Attendance for these services is typically between 50 and 65 kids from four years old to sixth grade.
The church also has a second building across town that is the center of their youth ministry. These youth services are focused on reading through the Bible week by week and are Scripture-focused. This allows for youth who have never grown up with Bible stories to experience them for the first time. Typically, 35 to 45 youth show up every week. These numbers are significant to Pastor Dent: “For some, the 85 to 110 students may not seem that high. For us, it is amazing. Marion only has 197 students K-12 in our school system.”
Leaders in the church are also active in the community. Some serve on the school board, teach, or serve as faculty members. Even the pastors coach local sports teams. Aside from a willingness to change, Pastor Dent believes community relationships play a great deal into the church’s impact. “We are also very active with every community event,” he explains. “We believe that it is vitally important for our community to see us every time they are out.” Recently, the church is working to become a D6 church, which means decisions are made on the belief that the church is a resource for spiritual growth that begins at home.
The church’s ministry extends all the way to the Native American mission in Allen, South Dakota, located on the Pine Ridge reservation. The congregation supports the mission with funding and mission trips. Supporting this ministry continues to be a priority, especially since Pastor Dent works with the Domestic Ministry team of Church of God Ministries and as the regional coordinator for the American Indian Council. He hopes to spread awareness of this movement.
The church must ask itself: How can we reclaim our neighborhoods and towns? First Church of God in Marion answers that question with another question: Are we more concerned with what happens inside the walls of the church or with reaching the lost? Pastor Dent chooses to ask leaders in his congregation what their hobbies are and “how can they use those hobbies to direct people to Christ. Not the church, but to Christ.”
Reclaiming what hell has stolen always starts in the same place, whether your town has a million people or only 800. It’s starts with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the subject.
In Marion, South Dakota, across the United States, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Donate today at http://www.jesusisthesubject.org/join-movement/.