The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

County church leaders see need for growth

Much of community remains unchurched, local pastors say

By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — With studies showing that seven out of 10 Anderson residents have never been to church and eight of 10 have not been to church in the last year, First Baptist Church of Anderson Pastor Arthur Jaggard said he is still seeing encouraging signs that Anderson is starting to take God seriously.

“I think we are at a pivot point,” he said. “I really believe that God’s word works, and when we submit to God and let his word be in control of our lives, we enjoy fantastic blessings. We as a church invite people to come and worship Jesus Christ and enjoy the benefit of belong to him.”

Jaggard said that with the more than 140 churches in Anderson mostly half empty there isn’t a need for more churches.

“We have plenty of churches,” he said. “What we don’t have is a community that as a whole thinks being pleasing to God is a high priority. Until we stop trusting things like General Motors, our political structures, our economic development efforts or even that racino to turn this community around, we will not see the blessings that God desires to pour out in Madison County.”

Kevin Majeski, communications director at Madison Park Church of God, said the people of Madison County aren’t strangers to difficult times.

“While the rest of the country and world may just now be feeling the crush of weakened economy, the people of Madison County have, for decades, struggled to make a better way,” he said. “Our hope for a brighter future is rooted in the strong faith of the people of Madison County. The more our community finds itself in need, the stronger our faith must be in the seemingly impossible.”

Father Bob Williams, pastor at St. Mary’s and St. Ambrose Catholic churches, said he hasn’t noticed any large shifts in the Catholic parishes in Madison County. St. Ambrose, he said, has actually begun to develop even more in areas of organization and leadership.

And with Bishop Timothy Doherty’s arrival in July, the church is growing even more with the “shot of energy” provided by the bishop. His vigorous style, new ideas and a renewed focus on Hispanic ministries are setting the church on a path of growth over the next year, Williams said.

But as a county overall, he said he doesn’t see religion as being a high priority among Madison County residents. The people involved in church though, Williams said, are very active, especially those in his local parishes.

Like Williams, Sherman Street Church of God Pastor Ragen Mitchell said things in his church were very good in 2010.

Financially, the church ended the year in the black and has increased its 2011 budget by 5 percent. And nearly 12 percent of the budget goes directly back to the community via community organizations and missions, Mitchell said.

“I think religion is a priority,” he said. “I think it is becoming even more of a priority than it has been in the past. Historically Anderson was a General Motors town. The aspiration once was only to get involved in GM. Those days are gone. Now, education and evangelicalism are the keys to success and family structure.”

Many of the churches in the area said they increase and retain membership via outreach — tutoring, festivals, meals and mission projects. The pastors also said alternative services like the Hispanic services at Saint Mary’s or the Crossroads Worship service at Madison Park Church of God help reach out to their members and those in the community.

“How are we growing our church? It’s really about relationships,” Majeski said. “Sure, we offer a wide variety of programs designed to meet everyday needs, physical and spiritual, of real people — Zumba fitness, Dove Harbor women’s shelter, DivorceCare; we have two child care ministries, a women’s ministry that regularly reaches out to exotic dancers in our community. The list goes on and on. But our programs are vehicles, designed to help build relationships.”

Contact Abbey Doyle, 640-4805, abbey.doyle@heraldbulletin.com.