By Carl Stagner
For many, the New Year is a chance to start over. Until recently, the Church of God in Ontario, Ohio, had experienced a season of decline and desperately needed a fresh start. But this congregation wasn’t about to wait until the dawn of 2019 to get moving again. A new pastor, a new name, a new structure, and a new vision—all in just seven months—have proven catalytic in the turnaround Avenue Church is currently experiencing.
During their pastoral interview process, Nate Hultz and his wife Elizabeth were told up front that First Church of God was in rough shape. Financial health was down, attendance was down, and morale was certainly suffering. “Regardless if we got the job or not, my wife and I immediately gave tons of feedback and ideas of what must happen to revive a church on the brink of death,” Nate recalls. “Once my wife and I were brought on board, we spent the entire summer praying, reading, prepping, changing, and doing some ‘face work’ to the ministry. Our goal was for a September 9 relaunch. Part of the relaunch was a new mission, vision, and new identity. We needed to break any old thought processes and thinking in the church and the community.”
Letting go of the previous identity and accepting the new one meant coming up with a new name. Since their property is on one of the major roads in town called Park Avenue West, they landed on the name Avenue Church. Pastor Nate says that the new name and logo have been embraced by the congregation, all the while capturing the attention of a community interested in visible changes happening in their midst. This is especially important for a community that has numerous church but is still home to nearly 50,000 unchurched people.
“We are not doing our job very well,” Nate reflects. So, Pastor Nate has inspired the church to recalibrate and restructure to maximize reaching the unreached—and then discipling new believers.
So far, the strategy seems to be working. When Nate arrived, the church was averaging about 55 on Sunday mornings. Today, the attendance runs over 155. More encouraging than seats filled, however, are the nine people who were baptized in that short period of time and those lined up to be. As exciting as it has been to see church growth, Pastor Nate really wants to see church health. As such, his goal for 2019 is the implementation of an intentional discipleship plan. “We don’t want to just create classes,” he explains. “We want to take people from no faith to faith, to Timothys, to Pauls. We need disciples making disciples. This is a lost art in the church world. So many of our churches are focused on creating places for Christians to grow in knowledge but not training them how to dig in the Word, disciple new Christians and non-Christians, and lead their peers.”
One of the innovative ways Avenue Church has inspired discipleship is through storytelling. Their website has a page devoted entirely to celebrating those who are baptized and sharing their stories of transformation. Life change is happening, but too often people in the church—and especially the community—are simply unaware. Again, life change is happening, but too often people in the church don’t like the change that must happen to make room for the Spirit to move.
“The biggest issue I see in churches is how we hold onto traditions way more than we hold onto what Jesus teaches us,” Nate observes. “Think about the life of Jesus. The reason the religious leaders of his day were so angry with him is because he challenged their traditions…. The other possible issue is pastors need to be men and women of intentional prayer and fasting on a consistent basis. We need to stop trying to make people happy and begin focusing on teaching the church, even those who have been in the church for many decades, to die to themselves and become like Jesus.”
After all, Jesus is the subject. And the people of Avenue Church have demonstrated that they’re “Jesus people.”
In Ohio, across North America, and around the world, the Church of God is taking back what hell has stolen. Join the movement. Give life. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.