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Churches Partner to Reverse Decline

Dying congregation in Junction City, Oregon, turns around and is thriving again.

Van Clements heard the criticisms, the "what are you doing?" comments from some of the 480 in the Assemblies of God flock he shepherds.

But Clements, pastor of the Willamette Christian Center in Eugene, Oregon, went ahead anyway with their restoration project of a small neighboring AG church in nearby Junction City, a town of 5,400. Sunday morning attendance there had dropped to about a dozen people.

"People told me it wouldn't work," Clements says. "'People told me I wouldn't be trusted."

The concern was that the long rivalry between the two towns created a natural rift, hurting the chances of the church's outstretched hand helping. Undeterred, Clements proceeded anyway.

At the first Sunday service on Easter last year, 134 people attended. Clements received text messages that morning before the service began, telling him extra chairs had to be set out.

"I thought they were joking," Clements says with a chuckle.

In March 2013, district officials contacted Clements about the declining turnout at the Junction City church. The district requested that Willamette Christian Center parent the Junction City church to help get the congregation growing again.

"It's been so fun," Clements says. "It's been a learning experience every week."

Each Sunday, the Junction City congregation participates in a live simulcast of Clements' sermon via a high-definition quality screen. Worship songs are done separately at each church.

"Trying to be one church on two campuses isn't easy," Clements says. "That's a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy."

On Christmas, there were three church services at the Junction City church and about 250 people attended. The Assembly of God church that had nearly emptied out is full again.

Clements believed renovation to be essential before the church founded in 1941 could thrive again. In August 2013, five months after agreeing to parent the church, the remodel on the outside began, replacing the weathered siding, hanging new doors, and putting up a new cross. The modernization, done by church members, took about six months.

In April 2014, services began again with Clements overseeing a simulcast every week.  Initially, Clements preached at the church in Junction City for about five months and then drove the eight miles south to Eugene for the other service.   

Three weeks before that first Easter service, the church mailed about 12,000 postcards out to residents of the area, inviting them to church.

Clements is surprised by the quick turnaround at the 74-year-old AG church.

"I gave myself at least three years before anything would happen," he says. "I've been amazed. It's a fun time to see what God is doing in the community."

Among Clements' church staff working at both churches has been Ranee Werder. She's the business administrator at Willamette Christian Center and serves as the campus director and pastor at the Junction City church.

"It's a come-as-you are atmosphere," Werder says. "Everyone is inviting their friends."


Gail Wood

Gail Wood wrote for newspapers for 33 years in newspapers, has written for more than 60 publications including USA Today, and is now a freelance writer. He grew up attending Life Center, an Assemblies of God church in Tacoma, Washington. Wood is the author of Saved Twice, a book about 13 Christian athletes. Wood and his wife, Mary, have three sons, Matt, Bryan, and Paul.