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Looking for a New Day

Changing demographics present opportunity for small town congregation.
Joshua L. Hochstetler is ready for New Day Assembly to live up to its name. Hochstetler has been lead pastor of the Perry, Iowa, congregation — the oldest Assemblies of God church in the Hawkeye State — for almost four years.

The congregation is small, around 60 attendees on average, but Hochstetler is encouraged by the opportunity to influence children and youth in the central Iowa town of 7,800. Hochstetler, who has been married to his wife, Melissa, for 25 years, notes that a child who started attending Junior Bible Quiz on Wednesday nights initially couldn’t read well and received poor grades in public school. Now he is better student because of his thirst for knowledge spurred by JBQ.

The church recently completed a yearlong participation in Acts 2 Journey. The quarterly two-day cohorts, sponsored by AGTrust, are designed to help local church leaders better impact their community.

“Acts 2 Journey has started conversations in the church,” says the bivocational Hochstetler, who also operates a construction company. “I shouldn’t make all the decisions on core values.” He served as associate pastor at the church for 13 years before taking over as lead pastor in 2015. When he came in 2002, the average congregant age was 60; now it’s 30. Almost half the attendees have come since Hochstetler became lead pastor; 21 people have been baptized since the church started the Acts 2 Journey process.

Hochstetler says in the early days of leading New Day Assembly he often called his longtime AG pastor father, Jerry. But Jerry died in 2016.

“I was too reliant on him, not the Lord,” says Hochstetler, 44. “The Acts 2 process has required us as a church to seek and listen to God for direction of our church.”

Teresa Wilkinson, who is part of the church worship team, has noticed a change in Hochstetler.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” says Wilkinson, 67. “He’s more mature, he’s more comfortable in preaching.”

Certainly Perry is in a demographic shift. Although nearly 80 percent of Perry residents registered as white in the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 40 percent of the town is now Hispanic, in large part because of a Tyson Foods pork plant that employs 1,200 workers.

There are a pair of thriving Hispanic AG congregations in Perry, both pastored by church planter Mabel Nieto: Fuente de Vida Asamblea de Dios and Nueva Vida Asamblea de Dios.

Wilkinson, who is a licensed mental health therapist working in local schools, says around 50 percent of children enrolled are Hispanic. Wilkinson, who is obtaining ministerial credentials through the Iowa School of Ministry, sees multiethnicity as a benefit to the town. She also is encouraged by the Acts 2 Journey.

“It’s been motivating because its promoted communication among our members,” she says.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.