In Acts 18:10, God encourages the Apostle Paul to persevere in his ministry in Corinth by reminding him, “I have many in this city who are my people.” This verse became one of the core convictions that led to the planting of the City of God Church. A handful of people truly believed that God had many people in the Greater Lafayette Area and on Purdue’s Campus who were his, and this inspired us to start a new church that would make disciples who love Jesus, love people, and advance the gospel.
So, fourteen years ago, twenty-six people gathered in the living room of the Stewart Co-Op for City of God Church’s first preview service. Those first few weeks of services were an exciting time for us as a church, but they also reminded us that there were some unique challenges that we were going to face as a congregation, given our demographic. If you’ve attended COG, you’ve likely heard the infamous story when Pastor Eric counted the offering and found $4 and an Arby’s coupon. It was obvious that if the City of God was going to make it as a church, we would have to be creative and resourceful.
That’s exactly what we did. We were driven by the conviction that if a church was willing to keep the main thing the main thing - if a church was willing to keep Jesus and the gospel front and center - then that would attract and transform people. We took to heart Paul’s words in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...” and we truly believed that it could overcome any lack of resources, flash, polish, or experience that we were missing. Eventually, that small group of people moved on from the Stewart Co-Op to the Holiday Inn. Yes, there were times of discouragement in those early days, but we continued to believe that if we kept Jesus at the center of what we did and who we were, he would be faithful.
Following our time at the Holiday Inn, we moved into our first “permanent” home downtown - the basement of the First Source Bank Building. We realized the room was actually pretty filthy, but we hoped that if we kept the lights dim enough people wouldn’t notice. The church still didn’t have any money, so Pastor Eric and his wife, Jessie, took out a small personal loan of $2,000 to buy some IKEA furniture, paint, and better lighting. And for some reason, throughout our year in that basement, more and more people started to come. We celebrated our first Baptism Sunday in that space, and eight people were baptized. Eventually, on our final Sunday in the basement, we had over one hundred people packed into that space, with some sitting on the stairs that led down to the basement and others jammed into an elevator at the back of the room that we propped open.
We were doing our best to keep Jesus at the center of everything we were doing, and God was faithful to his promises.
As more and more people started to come, we continued to look for a new worship space that our growing congregation could move into. After our time in the basement, we spent a year in the Lafayette Theater. We moved again to the Southside of Lafayette in a business strip behind McDonald’s. Again, this move was another step of faith as it was a big stretch to afford our monthly payments in that space. There wasn’t much separation between the worship space and the children’s ministry, so it was obvious when a kid was having a rough day in class. But just as before, people kept coming. Eventually, we ran out of room for people to sit, so some would come in and sit on the floor while others would sit on countertops in the back of the room. We added a third service at that location, and it filled up.
More people were baptized and gave their lives to Christ, and it was at that location that our core group of non-college students really began to grow. But toward the end of our time in that space, it was clear it was time for another move.
That move brings us to the present day. We’ve been at Lafayette Christian School for the past seven years. The school has allowed us to expand our children’s ministry, which currently has, on average, one hundred kids involved every Sunday. We’ve also had more room to invite people to join us for worship, and in recent years, we’ve had more people gathering with us than ever before.
On top of that, we’ve continued to see and celebrate more baptisms. We’ve had the privilege of ministering to hundreds of college students who have spent time with us and then gone on to take the gospel to people and places we’ll never go. We’ve seen lives transformed, sent out our first full-time overseas missionaries, and entered a season in the life of our church where it feels like our roots are growing stronger and deeper.
What initially was just an idea has become a reality. City of God Church has become a congregation in this city that will outlast all of us, and, hopefully, will continue to make disciples who love Jesus, love people, and advance the gospel for years to come. And while we’re so thankful for all that God has done over the past fourteen years, there is still so much more to do. It feels like in some ways we are just scratching the surface of what God might want to do in and through our church. And just as before, it feels like we’re in a season where, in order to be faithful to the mission that God has given us, we’re going to have to take a step of faith together.