Looking back over the 2010-2019 decade…
New opportunities to be bold Christians emerged, old obstacles to living for Jesus were reshaped by shifting cultural emphasis, Christian life values were challenged on many fronts and meeting everyday life responsibilities became more difficult for many Washington Avenue members. Balancing a life of service to Jesus took on added commitment.
Nonetheless, despair was not a part of the congregational mindset; after all, God was in control. Despite the challenges, the decade proved to be opportunity rich for the congregation’s ninth decade.
Noting some Evansville demographics adds perspective to the decade’s place in history. The latest population numbers available (but before the 2020 census) reports Evansville’s 2019 population to be 117,963. By way of comparison, during the congregation’s first decade (starting in 1924) Evansville’s population was 85,000. The 2010 census reported the area’s metro population to be 345,680 and the latest 2019 estimated population grew slightly to 358,676. The Evansville metropolitan area is the 142nd largest in the nation. While far from the giant metropolitan population in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, the area did provide a rich environment for seeking lost souls.
Things happening around the world played a role…
Not all notable world events had direct consequences for the members of the Washington Avenue congregation and its mission. But the often-heard phrase “it is a small world” proved once again to accurately describe how much the church family was influenced by events far from the confines of the Washington Avenue church building.
Church families, both young and old, benefited from improved medical knowledge and practices. Robotic surgery, expanding technology on all fronts and new chemistry discoveries were only a few of the things that brought victories in the battle to defeat heart disease, cancer, and strokes. Expanded health insurance coverage helped make access to these medical advances available to more Washington Avenue members. Such progress did not reach all people around the globe; world poverty and natural disasters initiated concerned responses from Washington Avenue members. Generally, the world’s economic condition improved during the decade and that softened the difficulties of the previous decade. To be sure, the improvement did not touch the lives of all people and church members frequently responded in helpful ways when opportunities occurred. While it is true that violence in Evansville, as well as the country, exploded with horrible events, the church family at Washington Avenue was spared the experience of a “church shooting.” Such was not the case in many church settings. Evangelistic opportunities were, for the most part, unimpeded and the congregation’s mission efforts domestically and internationally expanded. In retrospect, the congregation experienced good things during the 2010-2019 years.
Putting things in perspective requires a look at the “not so good events” that challenged the church family. The decade began as the country and world was recovering from a monumental economic recession. This financial event took its toll on many of the Washington Avenue members. While the United States retained superpower status, real challenges to this status gained traction on many fronts. Disputes among nations ranged from terrorist actions to formal war settings. Economic trade wars adversely impacted the wellbeing of members. The threat of expanded nuclear weapons alarmed the world; and Washington Avenue members were not immune to the threats. Smartphones, tablets and other IT devices continued to change our lives, and though improved technology brought many benefits, it was not without a cost in the realm of human interactions. Social media expanded as the preferred way of communicating and with that came a growing concern about privacy issues and “cyber bullies.” Technological advances pushed greater dependency on the internet and contributed to national security issues and threats to internal political representation. Wrapped up in this was the continued redirection of our nation, and the world, in ways that conflicted with fundamental Biblical teaching. The LGBT movement expanded rapidly and Gay Pride, the Me-Too Movement and other cultural shifts sometimes put members in conflicting situations that challenged their commitment to the Master. Along with all of this, on the national level the approach to governing our country continued to spiral downward into ever escalating conflict between the major political parties. And, as the decade ended, the country was embroiled in a political action to impeach the President. Words like cooperation, collaboration and statesmanship could rarely be found appropriate to describe the political process. While none of these challenges were new to the decade, their intensity did impact day to day life for the members of the congregation. Clearly, a cloud of uncertainty was discernable among Washington Avenue members.
Trying to be “a light in a changing world” became more difficult during the decade…
The “general make-up” of religion in the world continued to change. A 2012 study identified the number people associating themselves with the world’s 3 major religions as follows; Christianity (using the term broadly) at 2.4 billion, the Islamic faith at 1.8 billion, and Hinduism at 1.1 billion. The study noted that of the 2.4 billion people associating themselves with Christianity, 229 million were in the United States. Further, the study noted that 1.2 billion individuals around the world described themselves as secular (no religious affiliation).
Against the back-drop of the “big numbers” above, a 2018 Gallup Poll disclosed that 50% of American respondents considered religion to be important in their life and were affiliated with a church or synagogue, but 76% of that same group thought that religion was losing its influence. By way of comparison, in 1992 seventy percent of the respondents to a similar study claimed to be a member of a church or synagogue. However, fifty-three percent of those respondents stated that they seldom or never attended a worship service. Only 22% indicated that they attended weekly.
Clearly the “playing field” during the 2010/2019 decade continued its unfavorable shift away from an interest in God…but even in the changing environment, there remained growing opportunities to tell the story of Jesus. The following narrative discloses some of the ways the Washington Avenue congregation stepped up to meet the challenge of being “the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” as described by Jesus in His words recorded in Matthew 5:13-16.
Developing a Long-Range Plan
At the end of 2009 the congregation had formulated and adopted a Long-Range Plan with the goal of more clearly defining direction and setting objectives during the coming decade. The scope of the broad ranging plan consisted of 50 distinct elements centered in 14 categories. Fifteen major impact initiatives were implemented during the 2010-2019 period. Along the way 9 less impactful efforts were put in place. At the end of 2019 a partial list of major achievements included:
• Planting a mission congregation in Cincinnati
• Enhancing international evangelistic outreach
• Employing an Evangelism Minister
• Streaming weekly worship services on-line
• Increasing community visibility and awareness
• Focusing on internal programs to enhance member support
• Engaging with the “Lads to Leaders” program
• Restructuring the congregation’s benevolence activities
• Replacing the deteriorating parking lot
• Renovating the auditorium and supporting spaces
As is common with long-range planning efforts, the implementation of the Washington Avenue plan components was constantly in flux. During the 2010/2019-decade numerous changes occurred; selected components were eliminated for various reasons and new unexpected opportunities emerged. Nonetheless, on balance, the plan execution helped concentrate the congregation’s direction during the decade and contributed to more effectively serving the Master.
Reaching Out to Lost Souls
In Cincinnati With the Queen City Church Plant
In 2013 work began to execute one of the congregation’s more challenging long-range goals and identify a church plant location. The search included exploratory visits to New Orleans LA, Raleigh NC, Chicago IL, Denver (including Boulder, Greeley and Ft. Collins) CO along with Cincinnati OH. Because of logistic issues (specifically associated with involving Washington Avenue members in “hands on experiences” with a small mission congregation), the approved location was Cincinnati. Parallel with the site search, an intense recruiting effort was initiated to hire a minister for the new congregation. T. J. Gifford was employed in June 2015 and the first Sunday Worship Service occurred on September 20, 2015. Bro. Gifford worked with the congregation through June 2016. Surendra Singh and his family (immigrants from Trinidad) was subsequently selected as the replacement minister and commenced working with the congregation in 2017. This mission work proved to be challenging on many fronts and membership growth was small. When the decade closed there were 6 families (13 members) dedicating themselves to serving the Master and reaching out to the Cincinnati community with the story of Jesus.
In Belo Horizonte, Brazil
The more than 30-year mission relationship with Eddison Fowler was substantially expanded in 2016 when an agreement was reached whereby the Washington Avenue congregation assumed the role of his sponsoring congregation. This partnership allowed assistance with many of the challenges he faced while dealing with life issues arising from living in two countries. Skilled Washington Avenue members provided guidance with retirement planning, insurance issues, investment and cash flow management and his interaction with other supporting congregations. Equally important was an improvement in the communications channel. This enhanced the exchange of ideas relative to his mission in Brazil and allowed for greater encouragement of the Eddison Fowler family.
Other Missionary Efforts
The Washington Avenue congregation’s loyalty to existing missionary commitments continued throughout the decade. Long standing relationships in Brazil, Tanzania, Hawesville, KY, Bridge Builders / Mentoring Missions in Guyana, Youth Outreach programs, New Zealand, Island campaigns in the Caribbean and various individual efforts (for example, college student mission trips) helped provide a platform for reaching out to lost souls around the world. Regrettably changing conditions dictated that the financial support of the Belarus Mission be discontinued in 2011.
Correspondence Course Outreach Ministry
Although not a missionary outreach in the traditional sense, the congregation’s Bible Correspondence Course program clearly focused on evangelism through Bible Study. While correspondence courses had been offered to interested individuals for several decades, starting in 2016 the energy devoted to this program dramatically increased and the number of students enrolled began to grow. During the four-year period ending in 2019, four hundred and forty-seven individuals contacted the church about the correspondence program. From that group, 225 individuals completed one or more lessons and 55 students completed all the lessons. At the end of 2019 there were 71 students actively engaged in working on Bible Lessons. Although international contacts are currently referred to a program administered by the World Bible School organization, during the decade 11 students from other countries completed the Washington Avenue program. There were no international students in the Washington Avenue program at decade end. Prior to referring international students to the World Bible School program, a total of 24 international students participated in the Washington Avenue program and completed one or more lessons. These students resided in 16 different countries.
At the end of 2019 there were 15 Washington Avenue members engaged at some level in this ministry. These individuals enrolled students, graded lessons, maintained records and responded to student inquires. Along the way they encouraged students in their journey to learn more of God’s will.
Strengthening the Church Family Through…
A Dedicated Ministerial Team
The congregation’s three ministers regularly presented lessons that enhanced Bible knowledge, stimulated Christian growth and helped develop Christian character. Collectively the church family supported each other by being acutely aware of members who were challenged by life events.
Bible knowledge was highly valued by the Washington Avenue members throughout the decade. Knowing God’s Word and how it applied to ones’ life was a critical part of Washington Avenue church family life.
Throughout most of the world, the concept of “value added” is most often expressed in money units. Such was not the case with the educational programs at Washington Avenue. The currency of excellence in the Bible School at Washington Avenue was caring teachers who prepared well to teach, students who wanted to know God’s Word, supportive parents and a membership at large who valued the total efforts of everyone involved in the process. Together as a team, and with the Blessings of God, living a life of service to Jesus was enhanced through the educational programs. And, yes, the monetary piece was a contributing resource, just not the key “value added” component.
Throughout the decade just ended the following components shaped the success of the Washington Avenue Bible education efforts:
• Age appropriate Bible Study classes
• Advanced Bible Study classes in partnership with Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies
• The Summer Educational Series
• The Fall Bible Series
• Annual Vacation Bible School
• Teacher training initiatives
• The introduction of a Children’s Library
• A children’s Story Time program
• Sermon presentations focused on specific growth topics
Meeting the needs of the congregation’s various youth groups took critical priority during the decade. A common thread running through all youth activities focused on spiritual development, Christian character growth, maturing Christian life skills,
advancing social skills that were consistent with Biblical teaching, recognizing and responding to service opportunities and being a constant encouragement to each other.
Youth groups ranged in age from early school years through high school. The level of involvement and scope of activity was dictated by age. The emphasis of the activities expanded as the child advanced in age. Examples of these activities included:
• Regular devotional sessions
• Interaction with other area congregational youth groups
• Hosting the annual Sonshine Youth Rally
• Annual service project (usually a mission outreach)
• Kid Sing (pre-middle school devotional and Bible Fact training)
During the decade the focus on the congregation’s college age individuals received increased attention. Bible classes were developed with a focus on the special needs of this age group. Opportunities were provided for College Students to experience international mission trips. Group social activities increased, including the scheduling of annual retreats.
As was the case in previous decades, the “seniors” component of the congregation played an important role in church family life. Their experience and maturity allowed them to provide valuable guidance to those younger than themselves. Their wisdom was an invaluable asset to the congregation. These folks were an active group; they met regularly for social events, traveled together to regional points of interest, contributed significantly in Bible Class settings and were a constant support group for each other. As a group they were acutely aware of their age appropriate needs and responded fittingly when opportunities arose. It was notable that the Washington Avenue “seniors’ group” did not restrict their efforts to their peer group; they made their presence known whenever and wherever needed. They were actively engaged in making hospital visits, preparing food for other members, writing encouragement cards, providing an understanding “shoulder for tears to slide down,” and listened when someone needed to talk. Clearly, this group made a powerful difference for good in the Washington Avenue church family.
Fundamental changes were made in the way the congregation addressed benevolent assistance to church family members and non-member individuals in the community. The approach to this important caring activity was redesigned to place a greater emphasis on Washington Avenue member involvement in mitigating difficult economic situations. Direction was shifted from reactive actions to the needs of individuals to a proactive attitude. Members were encouraged to seek out opportunities to help those who were experiencing economic hardships and to take personal ownership for helping to solve the issues. Funding for assisting with the resolution of the identified needs continued to be provided by the church. All of this resulted in the membership being more aware of individuals with need for help and fostered the development of meaningful relationships. On balance, the resources available for benevolence programing were more efficiently used.
Paying Closer Attention to Member Safety
During the 2010-2019-decade violent actions against church organizations across America escalated. In response to the growing number of such events, the Washington Avenue Church of Christ carefully evaluated overall security risks in the existing environment and implemented a security policy designed to minimize the violence related action risk exposure. At the end of the decade the congregation had not experienced a violent event. The policy review encompassed more than just an “active shooter” review; the safety risk analysis explored all discernible areas of risk and made corrective adjustment where appropriate or possible.
Effective Use of Technology
During the decade careful attention was paid to emerging opportunities for serving the Master through better use of technology. Two areas returned the best results:
• Multiple computer software upgrades allowed greater efficiency in day to day support staff activities. This was seen in overall member record keeping and in a more comprehensive accounting system.
• Electronic live streaming of congregational activities (for example, worship services, outreach seminars and various congregational special events) enhanced internal communications and expanded opportunities to share the gospel message throughout the world.
The Washington Avenue congregation enjoyed an extraordinary campus that included adequate auditorium space to worship our God, numerous classrooms in which to conduct Bible Study Classes, functional space to allow members to socialize and support each other, administrative offices for ministers and support staff and adequate parking. Additionally, there was land available for future use.
As with most buildings and real properties, constant maintenance was required. The Washington Avenue facility “turned 50 years old” during the decade and a significant amount of resources was allocated to various maintenance and improvement projects. For example,
• The parking lot was completely replaced (including the removal of all existing materials and constructing a new parking surface).
• A major interior renovation of the building occurred. Auditorium work included lighting upgrades, windows being replaced, pew refurbishing, new carpeting, wall and ceiling surface enhancements and the pulpit and baptistry area was modernized. HVAC modifications were made to improve the general environment. Out of date audio and video equipment was replaced with near state of the art products. The Commons Area furniture was replaced and some improvement to the Activity Center sound equipment occurred. The foyer lighting was upgraded, and the carpet replaced.
Checking the Numbers
At the end of 2019 the Washington Avenue congregation was comprised of 261 family units. At the beginning of the decade there were 291 family units in the congregation. Numerous reasons contributed to the decline in families. First, and foremost, turnover was an inevitable and a natural process. Members moved for various reasons and new families arrived in the community and chose to become a part of the congregation. Death of members occurred. Children grew up and left home, often going away to school and not returning to Evansville. In the natural way of things, life changed the membership of Washington Avenue.
Regrettably, during the 10-year period, some members elected to terminate their relationship with the congregation. Their presence in the church family was missed, and continual prayers occurred that they would one day return.
During the 2010/2019 period the total family units declined slightly more than 10%. At December 31, 2019 there were 465 individuals in the 261 families.
Attendance at Assemblies
Being together as a church family was important and received careful attention. Collectively, the membership encouraged each other to be regular in attendance and to benefit from being together to worship God and to grow their Biblical knowledge in Bible class participation. The following chart details attendance at the regularly scheduled times throughout the decade.
Attendance Data Chart
The Washington Avenue congregation was not immune to the developing trend, throughout religious organizations in general, of fewer people attending religious services. The reasons for the decline at Washington Avenue can be attributed to various factors. Some contributors were members moving away, deaths, members losing interest, wavering commitments, and restrictive health issues. Most significant, however, was the decrease in the number of family units in the congregation.
Financial Data Chart
The above chart details the source of funding and the spending for each year in the decade.
The Washington Avenue congregation was bountifully blessed during the decade covered by this chapter of its history. God provided church family members with resources from which they generously gave to support the annual expenditures focused on telling the story of Jesus, reaching out to lost souls, encouraging and supporting the members and making a difference for good in the community. The generous giving history of the Washington Avenue congregation repeated itself during the 2010-2019 decade; faithful and dedicated members gave so that planned objectives were, for the most part, achieved.
At the end of the decade, the Washington Avenue Church of Christ was financially viable and enjoyed a strong economic position.Ministers, Educational Director and Elder Information:
1985-Jan 2020 Stephen Rogers
1990-present Alan Bush
1988-present Alan Bush
Evangelism and Missions Miniser
2013-present David D Rogers
1982-1984 & Dec. 1992-2010 Richard Egerton
1982-Sept. 1992 & Dec. 1992-2018 Ray Justice
1994-1995 & 2003-2010 Butch Edwards
1997-2014 & 2018 – present Danny Weddle
2007-2010 Doug Egerton
2007-2019 Stephen Rogers
2007-present Jerome Stewart
2010-2020 Steve Dalp
2013-2018 Ken Rayborn
2016-2017 Dwight Burton
2016-present Alan Bush
2016-present Mark Shifflet
2016-2018 Tim Wiemer