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Community Immersion

Small Ohio church takes the plunge to refocus ministries as a way to gain relevance.

Encounter Church, the second oldest Assemblies of God congregation in Ohio, is finding new relevance in Fostoria, a community of 13,300. In 2015, Encounter Church reached a crossroads: either initiate a culture change or potentially close its doors after 104 years of existence.

While the church itself was the second largest building in Fostoria, the average Sunday attendance had dwindled to 60. Despite a fading impact in the community, the church elected David W. Burdick and his wife, Haley, as new lead pastors.

David and Haley, middle school sweethearts, had grown up in New Life Community Church, an AG church in Ashland, 65 miles east of Fostoria. The couple nervously accepted their first senior pastorate position after David spent six years in the Marine Corps and they both served 2½ years as full-time youth pastors at Highway Assembly of God in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

From the start, David realized that Encounter Church presented a challenge due to the lack of ongoing ministry opportunities for congregants.

“The church was very self-aware, though, and had a strong desire to revive its ministries to children and youth,” he says.

With a strong local school system in Fostoria, Burdick saw an abundance of untapped potential to reach kids and their families. To prepare for anticipated growth, Encounter Church started updating aesthetics, purchasing new material and equipment, and reallocating resources to start rebuilding the nursery and kid’s ministry.

“We took a risk really quickly, but the church was ready for a change,” Burdick says. “We made a priority to immediately get involved in the community.”

Although community response started slow, in three years, Encounter Church now is attracting 130 regular attendees. The church places a priority on small groups, family ministry, and community outreach.

Additionally, the church intentionally hired some ethnically diverse younger staff members.

The church had an entirely white makeup when Burdick arrived. More than 80 percent of Fostoria residents are Caucasian. Now two-thirds of attendees are African-American.

“Since day one of their pastorate, the Burdicks have led the charge to not only lead their church, but impact their community,” says Josh Plaisance, area presbyter. “The church was ready for fresh vision and direction, and David was able to light the match and get the fire started.”

Ashley B. Grant

Ashley B. Grant has a master's degree in Human Services Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University and is a credentialed Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Grant also holds certifications in crisis pregnancy counseling and advanced life coaching. Ashley is a fourth generation Assemblies of God preacher’s kid and has one daughter and three sons.