By Carl Stagner
Compared to some of the major metropolitan destinations across Canada, the isolated city of Swift Current, Saskatchewan—population 18,000—may seem insignificant. But there’s really nothing insignificant about the community, home to Eastside Church of God, a thriving congregation actively making Swift Current a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Under the visionary leadership of Pastor Kevin Snyder, and without compromising their Jesus-centered message, the church has dealt a serious blow to the forces of darkness as they’ve reclaimed territory—including actual property—from the clutches of hell.
Though a relatively small city, Swift Current isn’t immune to drug addiction. Big cities tend to offer more things to do, which, when utilized, can keep kids off the street. Swift Current has fewer options, so Eastside Church of God took bold steps to fill the void by reclaiming for Christ a 9,000-square-foot bar and pool hall. Today their youth center, now its own fully functioning entity, employs a staff of five and serves the needs of more than three hundred students per week. The youth center’s full-time counselor provides tutoring and connects youth with mentors and social services, as needed. The impact of the youth center has been remarkable, but so have the variety of other ministries Eastside carries on a regular basis as salt and light in Swift Current.
From GriefShare to DivorceCare, Eastside Church of God’s got it. But the ministry that Pastor Kevin is especially pleased that the church has launched is called Fresh Hope. Fresh Hope is a ministry specifically designed to address the needs of persons dealing with mental illness, an issue churches often choose to ignore or simply aren’t equipped to handle. “The Fresh Hope ministry isn’t big,” Kevin explains, “but it’s exciting because of its impact on our community. When you realize that 20 percent of our society across the board is facing a mental illness of some kind, or has faced mental illness at some point, we wanted to be able to do something about it. But, until recently, we weren’t able to adequately support that. Fresh Hope is Christ-centered, but the message is, ‘We get it, and we want to support you.’”
By offering a variety of programs that meet real needs of their city, Eastside has become more than a fixture in the community; they’ve become a widely recognized resource. Families trust Eastside, too, and this fact continues to have a positive effect on the community’s health. Such a pleasant reality didn’t happen overnight or by accident, though. Their emphasis on children and youth was, and continues to be, intentional, even as the church’s efforts to meet the needs of local young people continue. “We put a lot of financial and people resources into our children’s ministry,” Kevin explains. “It was a bit risky, but God honored our investment and the ministry started to bear fruit. So, when we came to a position to actually add on to our building, we decided to add 10,000 square feet exclusively for children and youth. This was a strong statement to everyone about our commitment.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that their vision includes yet another exciting addition. “We have long winters up here,” Kevin explains. “When it’s so cold, there’s very little in the community for young families to do during the week, except perhaps spend time at the playground at McDonalds. Our hope is to install our own indoor playground for the community and let families come in and enjoy a safe, warm, and fun environment.”
Eastside’s shift to an intentional focus on the next generation began several years ago when they began to consider the all-too-common phenomenon known as the “greying of the church.” Similar to Barna studies in the United States, a study in Canada called “Hemorrhaging Faith” revealed the disturbing statistics of only one in three children remaining in church upon entry into adulthood. “We felt God had positioned us to target younger families,” Kevin recounts. “It influenced our programming, our time, and our spending.”
Even as Eastside celebrates what God has accomplished in their midst, the congregation is not without its challenges. The isolation of the church and community means some commute an hour to get to worship services. It’s hard to connect those who live so far away. Pastor Kevin also prays for a more diverse demographic within the congregation, including a greater acceptance and love for people of every ethnic and cultural background. Eastside has been involved in sponsoring three to four Syrian refugee families, and not everyone has been comfortable about it. But amid the stretching and growing, Pastor Kevin Snyder is praising God for ongoing transformation as they continue to proclaim the message of Jesus and model his ways.
Perhaps this is why Eastside Church of God is making such a difference, locally and globally. In the midst of ethnic, cultural, and political division, Eastside Church of God is a trusted place for grace, and a home for all.
Learn more about the Church of God in the United States and Canada at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.