1970 – 1979
The attacks on religion that had become the norm during the previous decade continued and began to take a serious toll on many “church” organizations. Statistical information from that period points to a marked decline in the membership and influence of Mainline Protestant denominations. Some reports from the era attribute the decline in church membership / attendance to a general loss of zeal for spiritual causes. Others noted that new modes of worship were more attractive to people…that the old ways were no longer relevant. Some writers observed that the cultural changes starting in mid-century needed accommodation not found in religion. And, overshadowing all of this was the Vietnam antiwar movement. Then, as if that were not enough, along came Watergate with all of its evils. It was in this mixed climate that Jerry Falwell started his Moral Majority movement. The societal struggles of the sixties lingered on…perhaps even intensified.
Out of this difficult environment arose a fertile time for telling the simple story of Jesus. The Washington Avenue congregation, with the help of God, did not back down from the challenge and opportunity. Souls were at stake. Combining new initiatives with proven programs from previous decades, the Lord’s church embraced the seventies with optimism and enthusiasm.
But, it was not easy going. The early years in this decade proved to be economically challenging for the congregation. The “800 pound gorilla in the corner” was debt service. Early in the period, combined building occupancy cost and debt service consumed nearly 70 cents of every dollar contributed by the membership. The ratio was uncomfortably high, but not unexpected…the congregation had known in the late sixties that its aggressive building program would take a toll. The members also knew the problem would be short lived and would “go away” in the early eighties when the bonds sold to finance the church building construction would be completely retired. With a “we can do it attitude,” the annual contribution budget exceeded $100,000 for the first time in 1973. The congregation was about the Lord’s business…things did get done. Though early on times were difficult, the congregation never faltered or lost focus on what was important…and the work for the Master flourished on all fronts.
Local Community Outreach Occurred In Many Places
Gospel Meeting’s were numerous. Jimmy Allen, Jack Cox, Basil Overton, Harold Hazelip, Mid McKnight, David Sain, Mack Wayne Craig and Willard Collins visited the Washington Avenue pulpit. When added to the outreach mix, these events both enhanced the congregation’s zeal to tell the story of Jesus and provided encouragement to individual members. As a sidebar, it is noted that Pat Boone, a Hollywood Celebrity with a Church of Christ background, performed in Evansville during this period. He did not attend worship with the congregation while in town.
Using contact information gained during the gospel meetings (and from other sources), the congregation’s community wide personal evangelistic efforts were strengthened. One example of this was a “cottage meeting” program where family Bible studies were conducted in the homes of interested individuals. This effort generated substantial member support and resulted in several baptisms.
A rare opportunity occurred during this decade. While Joe Beam was the congregation’s minister, a debate between him and Madelyn O’Hair (the renowned atheist) took place in Evansville. It was an opportunity to present the reality of God in an unusual setting and to capture a degree of interest throughout the community.
These years brought a heightened interest in talking with Christian Church Ministers about their understanding of Biblical topics. Consequently a number of congregations among our fellowship were seeking ways to open discussion with these ministers. In Evansville Dennis Randall, the minister at the Cullen Avenue Christian Church and Joe Beam, the minister at Washington Avenue became acquainted. Out of that new friendship grew the opportunity to teach, resulting in Dennis Randall leaving the Christian Church and becoming a member of the Lord’s church. He then became an Associate, transitional minister at Washington Avenue. In addition, Mark Zimmerman, a volunteer youth minister at Cullen Avenue, also left the Christian Church and became a member at Washington Avenue. Both of these men worshiped with the congregation for several years before moving on to other relationships with Church of Christ congregations outside this area.
Late in the decade extensive radio, television and newspaper outreach efforts were made to contact people in the community. A very popular drive time radio program was started. The radio broadcasts presented a spiritual message, imbedded within short motivational clips. Augmenting these efforts was a weekly newspaper article in a question and answer format. Another significant evangelistic event occurred when a gospel meeting was televised from the Washington Avenue building. The television program was interactive and viewers were allowed to “call in” with questions or comments during the broadcast. These media activities increased the community awareness of the Church, while at the same time supporting the evangelistic efforts of individual members.
Telling The Story On Wheels
Jesus said “go teach,” but did not specify the methodology. He left the way up to first century Christians…and to their successors in the 20th century. In the seventies a creative popular tool called a “Joy Bus” came into play and brought with it new and exciting opportunities for the congregation to reach out to a special segment of its community…children who had no church relationship. Other congregations of the Lord’s church were having success with a program of canvassing neighborhoods for un-churched children that could be transported by bus to Bible School and worship services and, along the way, taught while they were on the bus. The Washington Avenue congregation investigated the idea and, after a due diligence process which included visiting congregations with programs in place, listening to counsel from such ministers as Pat Casey and Carl Wade and prayerful thought, the congregation engaged the bus ministry concept.
In 1973 the first bus was purchased, repainted to identify the congregation and the first bus route was established. Neighborhoods were canvassed, doors were knocked and children were invited to come to Bible School. Over time, 5 buses were in service picking up children throughout the community…downtown, Westside, North Side and East into Newburgh. It was an ambitious undertaking. At its’ peak, an average of 120 riders were coming to Bible School and worship on Sunday morning. The number of riders attending Wednesday night Bible Study averaged 220.
It was a team effort and a large percentage of the congregation’s members assisted with the effort. When five bus routes were being maintained, approximately 70 members helped every week by driving the buses, teaching lessons and leading songs, preparing breakfasts for the bus workers and conducting youth worship services. They found time to make the “The World’s Largest Milkshake,” along with leading other fun activities for the children. Bus Ministry workers made a positive difference in the lives of children in our community on a day to day basis and they instilled the story of Jesus in young minds that, hopefully, will influence their actions throughout their lives.
Not all of the congregation’s evangelistic energy was spent in the neighborhood and community. Running parallel with these near home initiatives was a continued emphasis on mission work. Long supported relationships with the Boonville, Mt. Vernon, and Princeton, IN congregations flourished. New, or recently started, outreach activities were engaged in Culpepper, VA; Minot, ND; Lamesa, TX and Cleveland, GA. Internationally, the support of a ministry in Suva, Fiji Islands was started.
A Renewal Of Cooperation Among Area Congregations Occurred
A practice known as “pulpit switching” became popular and on a regular basis area ministers of the Lord’s church exchanged preaching locations (normally at a Sunday evening worship service). When that occurred, the congregations involved would consolidate their worship services. The Washington Avenue congregation participated in these exchanges.
During some years in this era the Morgan Avenue and Washington Avenue congregations pooled resources and supported joint newspaper advertising and radio programming.
For a while regional congregations collaborated to present an annual evangelistic campaign known as the Tri-State Soul Winning Workshop. Many congregations supported this effort economically and with personnel focused on doing the tasks required for success. The thrust was evangelistic, with the community targeted as the primary audience. The workshop was sometimes held in the Civic Center (located in Downtown Evansville) and in some years attracted a cumulative audience exceeding 2000 people. While the event was jointly sponsored by area congregations, the leadership of the annual effort moved from congregation to congregation. Washington Avenue participated fully in these efforts, taking their turn at leading the effort, as well as providing support in all areas.
Less Fortunate Children Mattered
The care and well being of orphaned children had long been a concern of the Washington Avenue membership. It was no less so during this period and the Potters Children’s Home (Bowling Green, KY), Paradise Friendly Orphans Home (Graves County, KY) and South Central Children’s Home (Jeffersonville, IN) received monthly economic support. But the congregational involvement extended far past money; it included on site visits, institutional program support and special giving to help with the facility and staffing needs of these organizations. And, in the case of the South Central Children’s Home relationship, a partnership was established to assist with adoption efforts occurring in the Evansville area.
The Winds Of Danger
As had been the case since the first century, there were threats to the Lord’s church…and the 1970-1979 time frame was not exempt.
Seeds of change were geminating and some of these changes would become destructive as future years arrived. One such example was the “Boston Movement (otherwise known as the International Church of Christ).” Coming out of Gainesville, FL in the late sixties and gaining traction in the seventies, this movement would disrupt the Lord’s church in many ways. Identified (rightly or wrongly) on many fronts as a cult, with extreme mind-control practices, it had an adverse impact on the reputation of the God’s people in general. The Movement came to Evansville and the Washington Avenue congregation. Quick recognition of the dangers of this theological persuasion, along with a strong response by the congregation’s leadership to prevent its gaining a foothold, sheltered the church family from potential harm. The risk period was short lived and the proponents of the belief system moved on…leaving the Washington Avenue congregation relatively untouched by the experience.
There Was Also A Lot Going On Within The Church Family
A practice of formally recognizing the Bible School teaching and support staff was initiated. The congregation began to honor these individuals in a special way at an annual dinner where keynote speakers brought both encouragement and lightheartedness to the event. Extraordinary accomplishments of individual teachers were celebrated.
In support of the Bible School program, there were a number of teacher training workshops conducted. These seminars helped shape a better prepared teaching staff.
A program, known as Thursday Mother’s Day Out, had its beginning in the early seventies. In September 1978 the activity was enlarged and enhanced by adding Tuesday to the schedule. The thrust of this program was to provide a short training environment for pre-school age children. The half day program had the added benefit of allowing some “free time” for busy young mothers and would, in the coming decade, morph into a more substantial school setting. Eventually, in the early 80’s, it would become known as Rainbow Bible School.
Taking a broader view of the Bible School program and what the future might hold for it, during this decade the congregation explored adding a wing to the building to provide additional classrooms. While that vision did not materialize, the investigation did demonstrate the value placed on the educational program by the Washington Avenue membership.
The annual Banquet for Junior and Senior High School students had its beginning.
As one would expect, there were the usual “housekeeping” things occurring. The parking lot was paved, a leaky basement in the minister’s house on St. James was worrisome and the residual property from the Bellemeade time (a small house) was sold. It was also a time when some of the property was used by members for garden spots.
It was a busy time and the ministerial workload increased. During the decade two elders were added to the paid staff to meet the challenge. Thurman Liles was employed full time and Willard Tucker was added as a part time employee.
These years saw an increased awareness and focus on social programming throughout the country. New initiatives were surfacing on many fronts and one such effort…commonly known as Section 8 Housing…offered opportunities to religious organizations to become involved in providing housing for the elderly and handicapped. The Washington Avenue congregation engaged the process. A not-for-profit corporation (named Elderlove, Inc.) was formed in July, 1978 to explore the construction of a high-rise facility to meet the housing needs of elderly Christians throughout the Mid-West region. Subsequently, property on which to locate the facility was optioned and funding applications were made with the government agency supervising the program (Housing and Urban Development, otherwise known as HUD). Over a three year period a total of three funding requests were submitted, none of which were successful. Government funding for this program was dramatically reduced in the early 80’s and the Washington Avenue effort was temporarily abandoned.
Looking At The Numbers
The average Sunday morning worship service attendance in 1979 was 571 and on 18 Sundays during that year exceeded 600. The largest assembly of Christians and visitors for worship was 748. These larger crowds were, for the most part, attributed to the media outreach activities occurring near the end of the ten year period.
By the end of the decade weekly giving was approaching $5,000. The increased giving level helped move the congregation’s occupancy cost and debt service ratio to much more manageable level. By decade end the amount of income allocated to these components had been reduced to 25 cents of each dollar contributed. All in all, the Washington Avenue flock was on a much sounder financial footing and in a significantly better position to take on the challenges of the coming decade.Ministers and Elder Information::
1966-1972 Ron McIndoo
1972-1974 Tom Eddins
1974-1977 Daniel Hamm
1977-1979 Joe Beam
1979-1983 E. C. Meadows
1949-1980 Bert Hart
1963-1987 Roy Lee
1963-1992 Willard Tucker
1963-1973 Selton Phipps
1974-1990 Thurman Liles
1978-1981 & 1984-1988 Bill Perry