2017-04-16 / Insight

Easter Life & renewal

‘Lapeer County has something special going on’
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

Despite challenges, area pastors remain hopeful and upbeat

LAPEER COUNTY — Drive through any town, large or small in Lapeer County on a Sunday morning and you’ll find churches with full parking lots — likely even more full this Easter morning.

While churches are common on most street corners or along country roads, generally there are less worshippers in them than maybe a decade ago. And it would seem we’re not all that different than the rest of the country. According to studies done by the Gallup Poll and the Pew Research Center over the last 30 years, three-quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christian and 40 percent of them say they go to church on a regular basis.

Randy Williams, executive director of The Center for Discipleship, housed in the old Bearinger Church in Arcadia Township, said Troy’s Woodside Bible Church did a study before merging with Lapeer Township’s Maple Grove Church in 2015 and found only about 10 percent of Lapeer County’s population go to church regularly.

Randy Williams is the executive director of the Center for Discipleship in Arcadia Township. 
Photo by Phil Foley Randy Williams is the executive director of the Center for Discipleship in Arcadia Township. Photo by Phil Foley Peter Damaska, lead pastor at North Branch Wesleyan Church, said that while America as a whole has “become unchurched more and more,” he sees it more as a challenge and an opportunity than a cause for despair.

“We’ve been holding our own over the past decade,” he said with Sunday attendance hovering between 225 and 240. “There’s the constant pull of the other —work, leisure, sports,” he said, adding the challenge for clerics is to find opportunities to bring people to worship.

Damaska, who helps organize the North Branch ministerial association’s monthly meetings, said the other five clergy who attend meetings say much the same thing.

Williams said there are between 100 and 120 churches in Lapeer County ranging from tiny faith communities with a handful of families to mega-churches with hundreds of members. But Williams added he believes the number of truly active churches is likely close to half that.

In Lapeer, Jeremy Lazzell, the lead pastor at Calvary Bible Church, said he’s encouraged by events like the National Day of Prayer, which brings out large crowds every year.

Still, he said, there’s been a “loss of trust” in the institution in recent decades. He said it’s important to remember, “Every church is filled with sinners. It’s only a matter time before somebody gets let down. That’s because the best of men are men at best.”

Forgiveness, he said, has to be a key element of any faith community.

Chuck Herpolsheimer, an ordained elder with Light of Christ Community Church in Attica Township, said there is “a tremendous prayer movement. All over the county people are praying.”

While his church only has about 35 members, he thought the numbers from the Woodside survey would be higher.

He said churches like Woodside, Heritage Church in Imlay City and Gateway Assembly in Imlay Township are doing a “wonderful job of reaching out to people.” Herpolsheimer said it’s more important to answer God’s call than what church you attend.

“Lapeer County has something special going on,” Herpolsheimer said. “There’s an ecumenical spirit of the Lord penetrating and people are coming together. The denominational barriers are coming down.” He helps organize monthly meetings for the Imlay City and Dryden ministerial associations, which total about a dozen churches.

While Lapeer County’s faith communities face challenges area pastors are hopeful and upbeat.

“When Jesus Christ left this world, he gave his disciples a job to do,” Lazzell said. “I don’t think there’s anything better too. This is the most rewarding work.”

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