1980 – 1989
Serving Jesus And Telling His Story
The activity level that had been gaining traction at Washington Avenue throughout the last decade exploded into the eighties. Energy levels were high and commitment to the Lord was evidenced on many stages. Successful programs of the past were carried forward. New initiatives were developed and put into the mix. The core mission of serving Jesus and telling His story remained center stage, even though the period would bring its share of change and challenge. Perhaps this 10 year period is best described as focused…on things that were really important while serving the Master.
Just maybe the things happening around the country and world had a part in the refocusing process. Mt. St. Helen’s erupted, demonstrating the awesome power of God’s natural laws and the famine in Ethiopia focused the world’s attention on a suffering nation. Finally, the Berlin Wall fell…a more than just symbolic event. Once again a presidential assassination was attempted; this time unsuccessfully against President Reagan. India Prime Minister Gandhi was not so lucky; the attempt succeeded. And the citizens of the world watched, including many of the congregation, as the space shuttle Challenger exploded in flight, reminding people of just how quickly life can end. On a lighter side, the movie ET caught the attention of movie goers everywhere…and it was not unusual to hear someone singing “Turn On Your Heartlight.” These things were important; they did not, though, distract the congregation from its main goal of serving the Master and telling the story of Jesus.
Missionary And Evangelistic Outreach Activities
Looking beyond the confines of its building and neighborhood, the congregation continued to take an active role in missionary efforts both domestically and internationally.
Around the world missionary efforts were supported in Israel, St. Lucia, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Thailand, Scotland, and Australia.
Involvement with the work of the church in Edinburgh, Scotland increased. Two elders (Jack McBrayer and Ray Justice) made a visit to the Edinburgh congregation in 1983. This was the first instance of Washington Avenue individuals making an on-site support and evaluation trip to a supported international mission work. One outgrowth of that trip was Washington Avenue becoming a significant contributor (in the amount exceeding $20,000) to the Edinburgh congregation’s building fund.
Missionary outreach expanded domestically. Support of the Mt. Vernon, IN congregation continued (although a 4 year exit program was established and by decade end the support was discontinued). Other areas around the country receiving assistance from the Washington Avenue congregation included Great Falls, MT; Albemarle, NC; Princeton, KY and Stroudsburg, PA. In addition, the Washington Avenue minister was dispatched to conduct a gospel meeting at Albemarle. In 1984 the church family partnered with the Oak Hill congregation (and others) to help start a new congregation in Huntingburg, IN.
In 1984 a working relationship was established with the International Bible College (Florence, AL) wherein the congregation would help fund the education of students preparing to become ministers. This relationship continued throughout the balance of the decade.
In 1985 the congregation began to support the Restoration Leadership Ministry program (an outreach effort to convert Christian Church ministers) when partial funding of Dennis Randall’s work was started.
Adding to these initiatives, numerous one-time financial gifts were made to individuals to support their missionary efforts. One example of these efforts was the congregation’s support of Christian college students (primarily attending brotherhood universities, but not limited to those universities) who were participating in summer mission campaigns.
Local community evangelistic outreach, using various media opportunities, continued into the eighties. Radio, television and newspaper media was utilized (although on a much smaller scale). Radio programs were aired on WIKY and WROZ in 1983. The television program AMAZING GRACE was broadcast on WEHT beginning in 1983 and ending in 1986. Newspaper outreach, though less prominent, continued in the mix.
Although the Bus Ministry program, a closer to home missionary effort started in the 1970’s, continued into this decade, its effectiveness no longer met expectations. Regrettably, the program successes and influence of the previous decade were in decline. And, like the experience of many congregations across the brotherhood, success in touching the lives of the parents of bus riders with the story of Jesus was marginal. These conditions, along with other concerns, lead to the termination of the Bus Ministry in the mid-1980’s.
An outgrowth of the Bus Ministry Program was a recognition of the importance of providing a transportation service. When the program was discontinued one large school bus was retained to be used for general transportation needs. After a time it was recognized that this unit was too large for the purpose and the congregation’s first 15 passenger van was purchased. A number of these units would be purchased during the coming years and they would serve the congregation’s transportation needs admirably.
The Thursday School, having its beginning in the early seventies, took on more standing early in the decade of the eighties. In September, 1982 the name was changed to Rainbow Bible School. Members of the congregation became more involved and began to see the effort as both an evangelistic outreach and a benefit to families in the community. During 1980-89 period the days that the school operated were again expanded, the number of classes grew to 6 and student enrollment ballooned to nearly 90. While some regulatory issues in the early 80’s challenged the program, by decade end it was on sound footing. A direction for the school had been clearly defined and its purpose well established. It was meeting its mission and making a positive difference in the lives of children, while providing a valuable service to the community.
A bold stroke, leading into uncharted waters, was taken in 1982 when Hollis Maynard and Bob Anderson (representatives from Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock, TX) were invited to Evansville for the purpose of acquainting the Washington Avenue congregation with the Deaf Ministry concept. Responding to the opportunity, interested members in the congregation subsequently learned American Sign language and an evangelistic outreach effort was begun in the local deaf community. Vic Adams, a deaf minister trained at the Sunset School of Preaching, was hired and he and his family moved to Evansville in 1983. A gospel meeting, targeting the deaf community, was conducted that year. Several individual Bible studies followed and a number of deaf persons were baptized into Christ. Although the ministry did not grow to large numbers (at its maximum, an average 6 to 7 hearing impaired individuals participated), it did, and continues to, richly bless the congregation. In the early years separate worship services were conducted, but it was soon recognized that both hearing and hearing impaired members would benefit by the consolidation of worship services. However, separate Bible classes continued to be conducted. The Adams family worked with the congregation until 1985, at which time they moved to Greensboro, NC. The deaf minister position was subsequently eliminated. As a part of this ministry, members involved in the program frequently attended National Workshops for the Deaf. Attendance at these workshops occurred between 1983 and 2003 and included events in Memphis, TN; Overland Park, KS; Midland, TX; Birmingham, AL; Albuquerque, NM; Little Rock, AK; Knoxville, TN and Nashville, TN. Though the number deaf members has decreased (and at the time of this writing include only two), the ministry continues to bless the congregation. Outreach to the deaf community, when opportunities occur, continues.
Though not viewed in the context of missionary work, it is worthwhile to note that during the latter part of this period some members of the congregation began to show an interest in starting a congregation in the Newburgh area. While this would become a reality in the next decade, the idea was still in its infancy during these years.
A cooperative effort among area congregations, that started in the seventies, to present an annual community evangelistic campaign known as the Tri-State Soul Winning Workshop matured in the 1980’s. The Washington Avenue congregation played an active role as participant and supporter during the 10 year period ending in 1989, serving as the sponsoring congregation in 1980 and 1984.
Things Happening Within The Church Family
While the congregation’s involvement in evangelistic efforts in the community, its region and selected places throughout the world was significant, those efforts did not cause it to neglect the critical requirements of the church family.
The need to improve communication among the membership was recognized and a practice of having periodic, but regular, congregational meetings was started in 1983. These meetings, identified as Family Talks, were devoted to sharing important information with the congregation, gaining insights into congregational concerns and exchanging ideas. This important communication tool continues in use.
Running parallel with improving communication, the congregation recognized the need to train leaders for the future. Responding to the challenge, in 1989 a five year training program was rolled out. This plan called for four leadership training sessions to be held annually (in October) over a five year period. The curriculum addressed many aspects of leadership, ranging from spiritual issues to leadership styles and techniques…and much, much more. Students, ranging in age from early adolescence to senior adults, attended the training sessions. Qualified teachers were recruited from within the Washington Avenue congregation, as well as other congregations in the area. This program became the model that would be used for similar training session in years to come. The success of the program can be measured by the number of the students attending these sessions that later became active leaders for the Washington Avenue congregation.
Of equal importance was the congregation’s Bible School. While the leadership of this important work had, for many years, been successfully vested in various volunteer Educational Directors, it had by this time become evident that the responsibilities of the role had grown beyond that solution. Responding to the growing need for a full time Educational Director, Richard Fancher was hired to fill the roll in 1981. Before the end of the decade he would be followed by three other men. These Educational Directors paid careful attention to helping teachers improve their skills and techniques, the strengthening of the Bible School curriculum and expanding student Bible knowledge. Workshops and training seminars were presented to facilitate this process and promotional efforts were enhanced to raise congregational awareness of the importance of Bible education.
The responsibility for developing a well rounded Youth Group was not a matter to be taken lightly. To assist the Educational Director / Youth Minister the congregation’s first Summer Intern was hired in 1986. Jon Harris joined the staff and worked with Washington Avenue from May until August of that year. To further support the congregation’s young people, Jim and Nancy Clem founded the James Pounders Scholarship Fund in 1987 to assist students attending a Christian College with an emphasis on preparing for Christian service. Scholarships and loans, made possible by this Fund, assisted a number of the congregation’s young people as they pursued a college education.
In the latter half of the previous decade a membership support program, later to be called “Brother’s Keeper Program,” began. This effort matured in the eighties. Members of the congregation were divided into zones for the purpose of monitoring individual and family needs, engaging in social functions and overall encouragement. Groups met in each other’s homes, sometimes at the church building, occasionally at a local restaurant or wherever it best served the group’s purpose. And, for a time, groups met for a monthly luncheon after worship on Sunday. This program flourished throughout the decade; members became better acquainted and the congregation was more intensely aware of each other. A sense of family was fostered.
Property And Facilities Related Matters
Even though the decade was relatively free of property and maintenance matters connected with the Washington Avenue building, a few things did have to be addressed. For example, the parking lot was partially resurfaced. An old issue reemerged from property previously owned for minister housing on St. James Blvd. (a dispute with the buyer regarding a wet basement) and this was finally resolved. In late 1989 the congregation began to explore extensive renovation work to the Washington Avenue building, but action on this would not occur until the early nineties.
While the congregation’s 1970’s effort to build an elderly and handicap housing facility did not come to reality (and was, in fact abandoned), the dream of establishing Christian housing units for the elderly lived on. In 1988 the congregation began, in concert with a company named Congregate Housing, to explore building a Senior Citizens Retirement Center. After several months of work (which included preliminary design discussion, property location and prospective resident identification), it was realized that construction funding for the project could not be arranged and the project was again stalled. But the vision survived, and in its place a plan to build an apartment complex on the congregation’s property emerged in 1989. A construction design was developed and a property rezoning application was filed. As the project moved forward, substantial neighborhood resistance to constructing the senior housing arose. It became evident that the rezoning application would be defeated; consequently application was withdrawn. The effort was again discarded…perhaps to be taken up again at a future date when opportunity or environment would be more favorable.
Positive Interactions Among Area Congregations
There can be no doubt that the congregation was busy during the eighties with a broad range of activities that were primarily executed by its members. That focus did not, however, eliminate its participation with area congregations in events and programs that furthered the cause of the Master. For example, as previously mentioned, the collective efforts of several congregations insured that the area Tri-State Soul Winning Workshop continued. There were other important initiatives.
In 1987 the Oak Hill and Washington Avenue congregations collaborated to explore the feasibility of starting a Christian School. After considerable research, the project was abandoned in 1988. A core requirement for success was an appropriate administrator and, regrettably, such an individual could not be identified.
Beginning in 1985, during the period when the Morgan Avenue congregation was constructing their new building on Oak Hill Road, the two congregations jointly used the Washington Avenue building for worship services. The worship services and mid-week Bible Study sessions were held separately, but the Sunday morning Bible School sessions were consolidated. The arrangement continued until January, 1987 when the Oak Hill congregation occupied their new building.
The decade was, in many respects, a notable time for the Master’s cause in the community, region and the world. Significant things were accomplished; individuals were brought to Christ, existing Christians were encouraged and strengthened and good works were accomplished. But, not all was well.
Some Things Were Unpleasant And Difficult
At a minor level the Crossroads Movement, encountered in the seventies, revisited the congregation when a family enamored by the belief placed their membership with the Washington Avenue congregation. Though the event was not disruptive, a tension did exist. After a time the family recognized that the relationship with Washington Avenue was not a good fit and chose to move on to another city.
Other challenges, though, became far more difficult. Regrettably, the 1980-1989 years were laced with conflict among the area congregations of the Lord’s church. And, in the latter half of the decade, a number of churches divided over numerous issues. Finger pointing and accusations ran rampant and the tension associated with the dissension dramatically hindered the Lord’s work throughout the area. While not every congregation was impacted directly by these events, no one completely escaped the carnage. Wounds were opened that would take years to heal. Reputations were tarnished and relationships destroyed. Congregational leaderships were pitted one against the other. Though not eliminated, cohesion and cooperation among Churches of Christ in the area was painfully damaged. It was a very a dark period.
Sadly, Washington Avenue did not escape the events that were occurring and seemed often to be a focal point of much that was happening. None of these events happened in a vacuum and it should be noted that other congregations in the area undoubtedly felt the same pressures. The Washington Avenue congregation, and its leadership, was accused by some of being excessively tolerant of individuals preaching error. Moreover, the congregation’s leadership was characterized as one that no longer took a stand to defend the truth of God’s Word. Sorrowfully, those things, while not true, could not be kept external to the members. Sharp division of views emerged internally and were found among the membership at large, as well as within the congregation’s leadership. Attacks from outside the congregation were leveled at individual members, the leadership (sometimes specific leaders) and ministers. Trust and relationships within the congregation were challenged. All of this took a heavy toll on everyone involved…it seemed that all members were touched to some degree. It was an incredibly difficult time; and these disruptive issues would, to some degree, flow into the following decades. For a time it appeared that nothing would turn the tide of discord. But, with a great deal of prayer, inexhaustible patience, a tolerance for each others mistakes and the providential care of God, the congregation survived this high risk time. It was not easy. Overcoming the challenges of that dark period demonstrated the Washington Avenue congregation’s strong faith in God and unwillingness to give in to adversity. Those who lived through the time, and all who have followed, will always be indebted to the collective mind set of all the Washington Avenue members who, in spite of self-interest, put God first.
A Brief Look At The Numbers
In 1980 the congregation’s average weekly contribution was $4,695. By 1989 the amount had grown to $4,917. While the eighties was a decade of intense activity and refocused direction, it was not a time that saw a significant increase in contribution income.
Over the ten year period, attendance at the Sunday morning worship service averaged 419. This was a substantial decline from the 571 average attendance occurring in 1979. Briefly stated, this decrease was the result of a change in congregational mission and focus. During the later part of the previous decade, especially in 1978 and 1979, community outreach via media outlets (radio, television and newspaper) resulted in large numbers of individuals visiting on a recurring basis. As the focus changed in the 1980’s, the number of visitors declined, pushing the average worship attendance for the period downward.
As a point of perspective, the congregation’s average attendance at assemblies in 1989 was:
Sunday Bible School 245
Sunday Morning Worship 380
Sunday Evening Worship 225
Wednesday Bible Study 192
1979-1983 E. C. Meadows
1983-1985 Sid Fulford
1985-present Stephen Rogers
1981-1982 Richard Fancher
1984-1985 Dave Anderson
1986-1987 Joe Roberts
1988-present Alan Bush
1949-1980 Bert Hart
1963-1987 Roy Lee
1963-1992 Willard Tucker
1974-1990 Thurman Liles
1978-1981 & 1984-1988 Bill Perry
1980-1987 Jack McBrayer
1982-1988 Carl Junior Powers
1982-1984 & Dec. 1992-2010 Richard Egerton
1982-Sept. 1992 & Dec. 1992-present Ray Justice