By LINDA M. LINONIS
In a first for the Primitive Methodist denomination, two congregations have merged into Venture Church.
The change challenged members of the former Glenwood Christian Fellowship, 7872 Glenwood Ave., Boardman, and Frost Road Chapel, 935 Frost Road, Streetsboro. But they are collaborating to make the “one church in two locations” work.
The initiative was years in the making from idea to fruition. Services, both with balloon launches to mark the project, took place Sept. 8, 2013.
The Rev. Nathan “Nate” Doyle discussed how it evolved and is working. He is senior pastor based at the Boardman site. The Rev. Chris Kuzma is associate pastor at the Streetsboro location.
Pastor Nate said the idea had “been on my heart for a number of years.”
As superintendent of the Pittsburgh District of the Primitive Methodist denomination, he saw firsthand the struggles of the 13 small congregations with two in Northeast Ohio, two in central Pennsylvania and the rest in the Pittsburgh area. Only one church was growing.
The idea of one church in two locations that would share resources was pitched to the National Mission Board, the denomination’s governing body. The Boardman church engaged in discussions with two potential partners, but nothing worked out. Then a chance meeting at Camp Peniel in Conneautville, Pa., among members of the Boardman and Streetsboro congregations spurred another look at the idea and it clicked.
“It was a great opportunity in Streetsboro,” Pastor Nate said. Pastor Chris, who had worked with Pastor Nate for two years, filled the vacant pastor’s place in Streetsboro as associate pastor.
“The churches lost their old identifications and got a new one as Venture Church,” Pastor Nate said. “We know it’s God’s plan.”
Pastor Nate is the lead pastor for the two sites. He called himself the “preaching pastor,” because he handles 80 percent of that duty. He explained he makes a video of the Sunday sermon and it’s sent to the Streetsboro site. Pastor Nate said it is in two 20-minute segments that are broken up with discussion on Scripture led by Pastor Chris. “It’s working out in a positive way,” he said.
Pastor Chris, who has experience operating a successful home business, oversees the administrative side of the sites.
The Boardman site has an average attendance of 120 people with a membership of about 60. The Streetsboro site now has an attendance of 50, which is twice what it was before the merger. The Streetsboro site is an older congregation but is located in an upwardly mobile, changing community. Boardman has more young families with children.
This summer, the Streetsboro site installed basketball hoops in its parking lot and attracted about 80 young players weekly. That led to the formation of a youth group of about 12 and some new families joining the church.
The Boardman site has a baptismal font while Streetsboro doesn’t. In 2013, 16 people from Streetsboro site were baptized and a half dozen from Boardman.
Though the sites are separated by a 45-minute drive on the turnpike, some joint events have taken place and more will be planned. Those include Christmas parties and church picnics. Members also attend Camp Peniel, an interdenominational church camp.
The sites also share Sunday school materials and other programming, website and church bulletins.
Pastor Nate said the Boardman site has a group, Reformers Unanimous, a Christian-based addiction recovery program, that meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Fridays. A group of the same name already meets in Streetsboro.
What was family night on Wednesdays in Boardman is now Adventure Night. There’s a dinner at 6 p.m., then small study groups and the Kids Club at 6:30. Pastor Chris has begun a similar event on Wednesdays at Streetsboro.
Pastor Nate is in his 10th year of ministry; he came to the Boardman church in 2004. Pastor Chris, who served two years at the Boardman site, said the merger “is a restart” for the Streetsboro site.” “People are really coming together,” he added.