April 20, 1996 in Features

Bucking The Trend While Presbyterian Numbers Are Down Nationally, Congregations In The Inland Northwest Are Swelling

Nina Culver Correspondent
 

On Sunday, Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church will dedicate its $1.1 million expansion project and become the fourth Presbyterian church in Spokane to complete a major building project in the last 15 months.

Membership at Hamblen Park, Manito, Whitworth and First Presbyterian churches has rocketed in recent years, happily outgrowing their sanctuaries.

Ministers at the four churches expressed different possibilities for their rise in weekly worshipers, ranging from format to location to being middle-of-the-road theologically and to a revitalization from within the congregation.

Growth at the four Spokane Presbyterian churches is in fact an aberration because national membership in the denomination is declining at the rate of 40,000 a year, says the Rev. Jim Singleton Jr., pastor of the Whitworth church.

Local Presbyterian churches are “bucking the national trend,” says Bill Ailes, who oversees 50 churches in Eastern Washington and Idaho as the region’s Presbytery executive (the equivalent of a Catholic bishop).

“Most of our churches are growing,” he says. “Not all, but most.”

Hamblen and Whitworth are in areas of population growth, which makes a difference, Ailes says. But that doesn’t explain why churches like downtown’s First Presbyterian are growing. Ailes attributes part of this to “super pastors.”

“There’s been good preaching,” he says. “They are responding, they are coming.”

People are also looking for more meaning in their lives and a connection with God, he says, and are increasingly turning to Presbyterian churches to find the answer. “People are finding what they’re looking for,” he says. “Their spiritual needs are being met.”

The fact that Presbyterian churches are “full-service churches” and offer a variety of programs also attracts people, Ailes says.

The Rev. Ken Onstot, Hamblen Park’s pastor, says the four Spokane Presbyterian churches might be experiencing dramatic growth while other churches struggle to fill pews because Presbyterians are neither extremely fundamentalist nor extremely liberal, says

“Theologically, they are churches in the broad center of the faith,” he says. “There is a revival of interest in the center of the Christian tradition.”

Membership at Manito Presbyterian has increased to about 600, says the Rev. Galen Doughty, assistant pastor. That number more than doubled during Christmas week services, however.

Doughty thinks the four churches are growing because they appeal to a wide range of people and offer both traditional and contemporary services with a multimedia format.

Presbyterian churches are trying to reach younger families, he says. “It’s a concerted effort by those churches to meet new people. Trying to meet needs - that’s the bottom line.”

Singleton speculates that one reason these four particular churches are growing is because of favorable locations.

For example, he says, Whitworth is in an area of rapid population growth, and, as a result, has a large unchurched population from which to draw new members.

Secondly, Singleton says, these churches have aimed their focus at youth and families. “They’ve got a certain theology that people are hungry for,” he says.

Offering contemporary services has made a difference at his church. “We have done ministry in a welcoming style,” he says.

Whitworth has an official membership of 900, but its three Sunday services typically bring in about 1,000 people, says Barbara Ritchie, business administrator. Beginning in September, a fourth service will be added to make room for the increased worshipers.

Whitworth Presbyterian is also in the early stages of planning another building project, Ritchie says. No decisions have been made yet and no price has been fixed, but possibilities include a new administration wing and remodeling the sanctuary.

The Rev. Don Meekhof, associate pastor at First Presbyterian, remembers when that church completed its massive building project in January 1995. Membership is now about 1,946, drawing people from as far away as Cheney and North Idaho. The number of Sunday services was recently increased to three.

Membership has increased due to new life from within the church, Meekhof says.

The building project was necessary to accommodate the increased crowds and to allow the church to better serve the community, he says. Its long-term goal is to buy the entire block the church sits on in order to upgrade the area.

First Presbyterian has a “spiritual desire to honor our faith in Christ with proper facilities,” Meekhof says.

MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. DEDICATION CEREMONY Members of Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, 4102 S. Crestline, will officially dedicate their new sanctuary on Sunday, even though it has been in use since mid-December. The dedication coincides with the parish’s 40th anniversary. Dedication services will be at 9 and 10:30 a.m.; the anniversary program begins at 2 p.m. Besides the new sanctuary, other additions include new classrooms, renovation of the old sanctuary into more classrooms and a larger entryway. The final $1.1 million price tag was covered by member donations and loans. The project was undertaken to accommodate the church’s 436 members and the large number of children enrolled in Sunday school. The new sanctuary seats 330 people, while the old one could accommodate only 150. -Nina Culver

2. OTHER PROJECTS Besides Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, other major building projects undertaken by Spokane Presbyterian churches in the past 15 months are: Manito Presbyterian Church, 401 E. 30th, dedicated a $1.4 million project last month that included a new administration building, new offices, an expanded fellowship area, two new sanctuary entrances and three elevators. Whitworth Presbyterian Church, 312 W. Hawthorne Road, finished The Quall Fellowship Hall in January 1995. The $1.6 million project includes a multi-purpose room, a new kitchen and six new classrooms. First Presbyterian Church, 318 S. Cedar, remodeled its sanctuary and several youth rooms and built a new fellowship hall, kitchen, activity center, nine classrooms and a large meeting area. The final price tag reached $4 million. -Nina Culver

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. DEDICATION CEREMONY Members of Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, 4102 S. Crestline, will officially dedicate their new sanctuary on Sunday, even though it has been in use since mid-December. The dedication coincides with the parish’s 40th anniversary. Dedication services will be at 9 and 10:30 a.m.; the anniversary program begins at 2 p.m. Besides the new sanctuary, other additions include new classrooms, renovation of the old sanctuary into more classrooms and a larger entryway. The final $1.1 million price tag was covered by member donations and loans. The project was undertaken to accommodate the church’s 436 members and the large number of children enrolled in Sunday school. The new sanctuary seats 330 people, while the old one could accommodate only 150. -Nina Culver

2. OTHER PROJECTS Besides Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, other major building projects undertaken by Spokane Presbyterian churches in the past 15 months are: Manito Presbyterian Church, 401 E. 30th, dedicated a $1.4 million project last month that included a new administration building, new offices, an expanded fellowship area, two new sanctuary entrances and three elevators. Whitworth Presbyterian Church, 312 W. Hawthorne Road, finished The Quall Fellowship Hall in January 1995. The $1.6 million project includes a multi-purpose room, a new kitchen and six new classrooms. First Presbyterian Church, 318 S. Cedar, remodeled its sanctuary and several youth rooms and built a new fellowship hall, kitchen, activity center, nine classrooms and a large meeting area. The final price tag reached $4 million. -Nina Culver


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