by Lee Hull Moses for Disciples Mission Fund
When East Side Christian Church held their final worship service last year, it wasn’t the end of their story.
It was an all too familiar situation: an aging congregation, declining membership, a building that was far too big for them. East Side Christian Church had been a presence in Evansville, Indiana for more than 75 years, but it was becoming clear that something needed to change. With a large endowment to draw from, they had some options: They could sell their building and make a new start somewhere else. They could stay where they were, call a new minister, and try to find a new vision for a revitalized ministry. They could simply carry on as they were, worshiping with only a handful of people led by a part-time, interim pastor.
Through a long period of difficult, intentional discernment, they realized they just didn’t have the energy or the passion to try to start over, in their current building or somewhere else. And it didn’t feel faithful to just carry on as is, spending their resources with no real vision for their ministry. But it turns out they had another option: They could close their doors, give away what was left, and let their generosity tell a new story.
That’s the option they chose.
Rev. John Rich, the pastor of East Side who helped the congregation through the discernment process, said it was something of a relief once the decision was made. “We’d known it for a long time,” he said, “but we had to admit it to ourselves.” There was a lot of grief to work through, and it felt at times like the congregation’s long legacy of ministry and mission was being erased.
In addition to the difficult decision to close, however, East Side had another important decision to make: what would happen to the significant assets they had left? They realized they had an opportunity for their ministry to continue in new ways.
The congregation had long been active in the regional and general expressions of the church and had been faithful supporters of Disciples Mission Fund. At the close of East Side’s ministry, a gift of $100,000 was given to the Indiana region. Another $100,000 was given to DMF to support the ministries of the wider church. Other equally generous gifts were distributed to local community service organizations in Evansville, and to Bethany Christian Church, a neighboring Disciples congregation.
In his sermon at East Side’s final worship service, Rich reminded the congregation that for Christians, death is never the end. East Side was living its own resurrection story.
This congregation, which once saw no way forward, found their vision and passion in empowering other ministries to be part of God’s continuing work. Hungry neighbors in Evansville will be fed because of East Side’s vision. Disciples across Indiana will be supported because of East Side’s generosity. Ministry partners around the world will be served by East Side’s legacy.
“As a congregation, we have come to a time of physical death and burial, but we know that this is not the end.” Rich said in that final service. “East Side Christian Church, like all good things, will rise again. We will rise again as all of the ministries of our past continue to live on, transforming lives and making a difference in the world from our own neighborhood to the ends of the earth.”