2017-10-08 / Insight

Gateway Assembly grew from neighborhood to regional church

810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

Imlay Township’s Gateway Assembly is physically the largest church in Lapeer County and is planning to get bigger. 
Photo by Phil Foley Imlay Township’s Gateway Assembly is physically the largest church in Lapeer County and is planning to get bigger. Photo by Phil Foley IMLAY TWP. — When Pastor Jeff Krist came to the Assembly of God Church on the corner of Van Dyke and Weyer roads two decades ago, more than half the congregation left in the first year.

Church debt rose to more than $15,000 and one member went so far as to write a letter to the rest of the church calling for them to boycott Krist.

He and his wife, Tammy, even contemplated substitute teaching, just to keep the doors open. But, Krist said, “I knew what I knew what I knew.”

Even when his father’s Assembly of God Church in Flint, where he’d preached for 16 years, asked him to come back after his father’s retirement, Krist said he knew he had a mission from God and that mission was in Imlay City.

Gateway Assembly is among the more media savvy churches in the area. Lead Pastor Jeff Krist watches as his son, Stephen edits an audio segment for an upcoming service. 
Photo by Phil Foley Gateway Assembly is among the more media savvy churches in the area. Lead Pastor Jeff Krist watches as his son, Stephen edits an audio segment for an upcoming service. Photo by Phil Foley Today, Gateway Assembly, which began close to 70 years ago as an Assembly of God in a downtown storefront, sits on 54 acres on Van Dyke Road with a 40,000-square-foot facility and a vision of growth.

He said Gateway has grown from a neighborhood church to a regional church with members coming from as far as Port Huron, Shelby Township, Flint and north of Marlette.

While the percentage of Americans attending church regularly has dropped from 75 percent in the 1950s to about 56 percent in this decade, according to Gallup poll results, Gateway has been bucking the trend. Krist said between 1,300 and 1,500 people attend Gateway’s three Sunday services.

Krist is quick to say and he repeats it often, “It’s not me, it’s God’s plan.”

“We’re a church for the whole family,” Krist said, explaining “that’s why we have services throughout the week, not just on Sunday.” On Sundays, Gateway has a youth pastor for children in sixth grade and youth who has a message crafted for their level of understanding and there’s a nursery to allow parents to focus on the message.

A decade ago Krist bought 38 landlocked acres south of Imlay City. Some church members questioned what he was doing. Now they’re contemplating building a 50,000-square-foot addition that would include a sanctuary twice the size of the present one, which opened its doors in 2013.

That would turn the existing building into a children’s wing and a third phase would add a gymnasium. Krist said that while it’s all in God’s plan and timing, he thinks it might be in the next three to five years. However, he’s quick to point out that while he wanted to start construction right after the current site was purchased, “God had other plans.”

Still, he noted, during the recession that followed the real estate bubble bursting in 2008, Gateway “continued to grow in members and revenue.”

“It’s very apparent, if you understand enough denominations that are out there in this culture today,” Krist said. “It’s very apparent they’re changing their policies. They’re changing their constitution and bylaws contrary to the word of God. Many of them are stating the word of God is no longer relevant for this culture. And that’s something the word of God says that’s false, because Jesus says, ‘I am the same yesterday, today and forever.’ So, his word never ever changes. It’s for every culture.”

Krist said that while there has been a tremendous change in American culture in the last five, 10 years, “One thing that has never changed since I’ve been here and will never change as long as I’m here is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Genesis to Revelations.”

He suggested part of Gateway’s success has been because “we’re living in a culture that there is a huge, huge, huge number of people that are starving for the truth.”

Krist added, “I know we’re not the only church that preaches the truth, but we do believe, teach, preach, testify of the truth of Jesus Christ, even when it hurts.”

Gateway also does that in a way that many traditional church members would find theatrical. “I’m a very visual person,” he said.

A substantial portion of Gateway’s second floor is given over to recording and film studio space. Krist has been quick to adopt new communication technology from a moving message sign on the highway, to slickly produced commercials at area cinemas created by church members, and to high production value services and films.

Since moving into its current location Gateway has produced three feature length films and recently cut a deal to bring its second film, Tucker Therapy, to a broader audience.

While Krist warmly embraces technology, he’s very much a traditionalist. “Just like there should be rules at home, God has a book, his Bible, his anointed word, is our instruction book of life. It’s a beautiful book he’s given us. But when we’re not living by it, we know it.”

A third generation Assembly of God pastor, Krist said, “My grandpa used to say, ‘Sin will keep you from this book, but this book will keep you from sin.’”

God, Krist said, told him 15 years ago to build a church for people who weren’t church people. “God told me to make those individuals that don’t know Jesus as comfortable as possible.”

He said about half the people who attend Gateway were unchurched before they started to visit his church.

Part of being family oriented for Gateway has been a drive to community outreach. Two years ago, Gateway kicked off its Heart Loves festival, which offers everything from pony rides to free oil changes on its campus.

While the church has grown into multiple agegroup ministries, Krist said he recently reminded the adults in the congregation, “This church isn’t for you. This church isn’t for the young people. This church is for all of us.”

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