Rockford Church Finds New Life

Jan 18, 2013

Once faced with an uncertain future, parish leaders at Calvary Lutheran Church now feel more optimistic about what lies ahead for their place of worship.

Calvary Lutheran Church-Rockford
Credit Mike Moen

Walking along a row of pews inside Calvary Lutheran Church, longtime parishioner and congregation president Randy Calvert talks about dwindling attendance at weekly services. The church says it averaged 27 people per service last year. Calvert says that pales in comparison to what the church used to see.

“At one time it was probably 150, maybe up to 200 at one time.” -Randy Calvert

Those days are gone. Pastor Chuck Olson says it’s simple: the makeup of the neighborhood has changed:

“The people in the neighborhood are not traditionally Lutheran, or even traditionally have church homes. Many people in the neighborhood have never been in a church before. So it makes us a new presence and a presence that they may or may not want to explore.”  - Pastor Chuck Olson

Established in 1923, Calvary is located on Rockford’s southeast side. Even though neighborhood residents aren’t flocking to the church to worship, Olson says the church plays an important role in helping serve children in this part of the city.

Olson says they have various outreach programs for young people who live around the church. But without a solid number of parishioners to rely on for financial support, church officials were left wondering if what they were doing was sustainable.

Calvary’s situation isn’t unique. Churches across the nation have been dealing with attendance issues. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found an uptick in U.S. adults who seldom or never attend religious services.  

Pastor Olson says in their case, it was becoming increasingly difficult to cover its monthly operational budget of $5,000.

All that changed when Calvary opened its doors to an emerging congregation in Rockford. No Cross, No Crown doesn’t identify with a specific denomination. But its leaders say it closely resembles something out of the Pentecostal movement, a far cry from what you might see at a Lutheran church. Needing a bigger place to worship, No Cross, No Crown began paying rent to Calvary so it could hold its weekly services there.

Calvary staff member Carol Phillips says while there are style differences between the two congregations, the partnership is resulting in a unified mission:

“I’m really impressed. I enjoy going to their worship services. They’re also helping out with their own youth group on Thursday night. So they’re taking my spillover of the kids that I can’t supply for the Jesus club.”  -Carol Phillips

Credit Mike Moen

Calvary officials say No Cross, No Crown also has a 12 seat van they can use to pick up neighborhood kids for after school programs. Phillips says despite some initial concerns, there has been no conflict when it comes to each congregation’s worship and program schedules.

More important, Pastor Olson says the new source of revenue has put them on firm financial ground.

As for boosting attendance at Calvary’s weekly services, Olson says there is hope. They’ve noticed a small increase in new parishioners in recent weeks, leaving the church to believe there is still room for growth.