AG Churches Reunite 40 Years After Split
Israel’s King David once wrote, “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” A pair of Assemblies of God pastors is proving that by reuniting two churches separated four decades ago.
“Both congregations voted unanimously to reunite which was confirmation to us that this is of God,” says Pastor Dee Anders of First Assembly of God in Minden, Louisiana. “Even non-Christians have taken notice of this show of unity.”
Anders formerly served as senior pastor of Sheppard Heights Assembly of God, also in Minden, a city of 13,000. Sheppard Heights started in 1975 when a group separated from First Assembly.
Before the merger, both churches had been viable, neither experiencing financial problems. First AG averaged 90 in attendance on Sunday morning and Sheppard Heights around 50. Russell Snider, senior pastor of First AG prior to the merger, is now the associate pastor of the combined church, which has experienced growth. The church meets on a 33-acre parcel that is debt-free.
For years, Snider says he felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit that the two churches ought to reunite. He and Anders are longtime friends, and the two often made passing comments about combining the congregations, he says.
Recently, Snider says the Holy Spirit compelled him to get serious about the proposed merger. He met with Anders, and unlike before, the conversation wasn’t casual in tone.
“This time he came in with resolve,” Anders says. “He reminded me that we have been friends and said God spoke to him that I was to lead and he would be transitioning into missions.”
In their in-depth discussion, Snider got a surprise as well. Anders told him that more than nine years ago the Lord had given him a vision about leading the combined church. Snider had been closemouthed, he says, because he wanted any union to originate with God, not men.
"When Dee told me the Lord had spoken to him about this back in 2005 I was shocked and encouraged,” Snider says. “When he knew that I was serious, he opened his heart.”
They know the merger is unusual for a couple of reasons. Because both churches were healthy, there wasn’t an impetus to combine for financial or numerical reasons. In addition, the pastor of the larger church, Snider, took the subordinate role.
"This merger is unique, but both pastors felt a strong leading to unite,” says Assemblies of God Louisiana District Superintendent J. Scott Holmes.
Assemblies of God General Treasurer Doug Clay recently ministered at First Assembly and found the merger transition to be a smooth one.
“It is a great statement for the body of Christ and that community,” Clay says. “I am impressed by the courage of these pastors and their sound stewardship. It is evident that this is a sovereign act of God.”