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First Church has leaned on the support of two grants from the Center for Congregations to establish two different locations: in Wheatfield and Hebron, Indiana. Read to learn more about First Church and their journey expanding their congregation to further serve the kingdom of Christ.
Located in both Wheatfield and Hebron, Indiana, First Church is a congregation devoted to building a lasting legacy of devoted Christ followers, sharing the message of the gospel of Jesus for generations to come. As a part of this plan, First Church has completed two grants with the Center for Congregations, each with the mission to expand their congregation.
“We always say that First Church is not a place where we’re united by what we’re against,” says senior pastor, John Hill. “We are untied by who we are for: Jesus Christ. It’s a place where rich poor, old and young, educated and uneducated, democrats and republicans come together to love and worship Jesus Christ.”
Prior to working with the Center for Congregations, First Church was meeting in a 125-year-old building with pews and a pipe organ. During this time, First Church was struggling. The building had a failing septic system, wide-spread mold, and other infrastructure problems. Not to mention, their congregation was shrinking. With struggling youth ministries and a decrease in attendance, First Church knew it was time to do something.
“We realized that in order to engage future generations with the gospel of Jesus, we needed a different vision and building,” says John. “However, while the church was willing, they were struggling with how to do it. There was fear about taking the leap to build. That’s when the Center for Congregations came along and said they could help us.”
In 2016, the church began their first grant with the Center for Congregations and hired Bill Walter from Church Growth Services. After taking polls and running data within the congregation, Bill assisted First Church in formulating a plan for a new building, which is known today as the Wheatfield location.
“Thanks to our new building in Wheatfield, our church was able to grow from 400 people to approximately 1,600 people,” says John. “If it weren’t for the Center’s grant, we wouldn’t have been able to build this location.”
After several years in their new building, First Church began to expand to the point where they were running four services each Sunday. While their newfound growth was a blessing, the congregation was beginning to outgrow this building, too.
“We wanted to continue reaching people,” says John. “So, we began praying about adding a second location. Based on our demographics, it made the most sense to go south. However, God had another plan for us.”
John asked a small group of people within the church to pray with him regarding establishing a second location. Throughout this process, every person felt as if people God was pushing them to look north instead of south.
“It was really cool to see God confirm to us through multiple people that we needed to go north,” says John “So now, we needed a town. That’s when my wife, Kristen, had a sign pop up in her head while praying. It was a green street sign with white letters that read, ‘Hebron.’”
At first, John was not even sure where Hebron was. However, after doing some digging, he discovered that not only was Hebron just the next town north, it was also one of the communities with the lowest per-capita weekly church attendance in all of Indiana.
“We knew that God was calling us to Hebron, so we set our eyes to the north,” says John. “However, we didn’t want to do a micro-site. We wanted our second location to be every bit as good as what we were doing in Wheatfield.”
In 2019, First Church connected with the Center for Congregations regarding the Community Ministry Grant as a way to establish their second location. First Church received enough pledges to pay for the whole building in cash once all the pledges had been given. So, in January of 2020, they broke ground in Hebron, but the congregation would soon be met with a daunting challenge.
“I’m sure you know where this is going,” says John. “COVID-19 came around and we seriously thought about shutting down the project. I was super fearful and was pushing to shut it down, but our leadership team and build team reminded me of how God has been faithful and had spoken so clearly and so we pushed forward.”
Since its opening in November of 2020, First Church in Hebron has witnessed people become filled with the life of Christ who initially entered the church having no idea who Jesus was. First Church has seen marriages restored, men repent of abusing their families, and children find purpose in Christ.
“I don’t think this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Center for Congregations giving us not just one, but two grants,” says John. “What once was a dying church in a backwater town is now a shining light from the gospel in two different locations.”
John shares he is grateful to be a small part of sharing the hope of Jesus with so many families, both in Wheatfield and in Hebron. He hopes First Church continues to be a place where people are united over their love for Christ.
“Looking back, I thank God so much that we did not stop that project,” says John. “God has really taken the seeds we’ve planted and brought back a great harvest. Getting to be a part of the First Church journey has been a defining privilege of my life.”
The Center for Congregations is funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. and is a supporting organization of the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.