Last year, Pastor Ron Williams was so excited to celebrate Pathway Community Church's 10th anniversary he planned a special message — complete with balloons.
“I got ready to go to church, and (wife) Laura asked what the message was,” he recalls with a laugh. “When I told her it was 'N 4 10' for our 10th anniversary,' she said, 'It's not our 10th ... it's our ninth anniversary!'”
“Sure enough,” he says, “it was our 9th.”
Tomorrow, Williams and the congregation will gather at the Grand Wayne Convention Center to celebrate the actual 10th anniversary of the northwest-side church planted in 2002 by the Missionary Church USA and several area congregations. Following the service, Christian artist Natalie Grant will perform in concert.
“This is really about what the Lord has done,” says Williams. “He said, 'I will build my church,' and this is about a group of people who were faithful to His leading, ... who are attempting to stay faithful to that same calling.”
It started small
John and Susie Schumacher were active members of Avalon Missionary Church on the city's south side. Along with several other north-side residents, they began meeting in August 2000 to pray about planting a church in their area.
“It became very clear that God was opening doors and wanting us to walk through them,” says John. “During that time, God changed our hearts from being unsure, to getting excited about having a church closer to home, to finally giving us hearts that really cared about the community in which we live.”
Four families committed to the church plant, and a search was initiated for leadership. Candidates from Texas and California were interviewed.
“God surprised us and answered our prayers in a big way when He led (us to) Ron Williams as the pastor and Kevin Frauhiger as the children's pastor right here in Fort Wayne!” says John.
Sensing a change
Williams had been on staff at Fellowship Missionary Church since 1990.
“After 12 years of ministry, … Laura and I were sensing that a change was in the works for us personally,” he recalls. “The northwest church plant had come up in several conversations, which served to direct our thoughts to its possibilities.”
Prayer, meetings with the founding families and discussions with Fellowship Missionary and denominational leadership affirmed their decision to accept Pathway's call.
“The vision was pretty clear,” says Williams. “Establish a church where people who were distant from God or had little or no relationship with Christ could come in and find answers to their questions, … where the focus was not on growing a church through simply transfer growth, but by creating a place where the Bible would be taught and applied in practical ways.”
Part of the community
They started meeting at Carroll Middle School. By five years ago, Pathway had about 2,500 people attending worship, it says on the church website, www.pccfw.org, and the congregation moved into a new building on Carroll Road.
Attendance since has increased to about 2,900 people a week, which makes Pathway one of the city's larger congregations.
The church has established a Five-Two Garden on its 38-acre campus, employing the biblical concept of five loaves and two fishes.
“It's not a community garden — it's a compassion garden,” Williams explains. “The purpose is to raise vegetables that we can give to those families that are in need.” They also anticipate harvesting about 30,000 ears of sweet corn.
Pathway supports area food banks, and participates in various local ministries including Celebrate Recovery, A Hope Center, Habitat for Humanity and Dynamic Marriage. International outreach has expanded to India, the Dominican Republic, Mozambique, Haiti and Mexico.
The congregation has donated more than 5,000 shoeboxes to Samaritan's Purse and funded more than 818,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children.
As the Williams family welcomed daughter Bella from China, the True Vine Ministry was established to meet the needs of orphans and families who desire to adopt, providing education, guidance, post-adoptive support and a scholarship to help with expenses.
“It's exciting to me when I think about Pathway's ethnicity,” Williams says. “You see it in the kids, ... kids from the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Ethiopia, Haiti, ... kids who have been fatherless and are now in families.”
One of many
Williams is quick to praise others in this City of Churches.
“I look at all the churches around us, and I get excited,” Williams says. “We're just one of many. For all of us, there's a sense of awareness and deep appreciation to the Lord that we get to do this.”
As the Pathway leadership looks ahead to the next five years, their goal is to continue to keep the message of Christ relevant to the culture, to demonstrate generosity to the community, and to continue to impact the world with the hope of the Gospel.
“A church that helps people understand the power of the resurrection of Jesus ...” Williams says, “that He's able to take dead things and make them alive again, to make beauty out of ashes.
“My hope is that we can continue to be a light in our community,” he continues. “Our celebration isn't about what Pathway has done, but about how great our God is and all He has done through us.”