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One Body, One Spirit

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In 2014 temples and mosques were replacing the churches in Wheaton, Illinois, as the area grew more diverse. Mitch Kim was the pastor of a church plant called Living Water Alliance Church (Warrenville, Ill.). Living Water successfully appealed to its target demographic, second-generation Asian Americans, and was growing. But Mitch was troubled by the failure of Wheaton’s churches to reach the increasingly diverse area and was praying for the witness of the Church in that area.

One day Midwest District Superintendent Jon Rich called and proposed merging with Blanchard Alliance Church (Warrenville and Wheaton, Ill.). Blanchard’s interim senior pastor was leaving, and he had suggested to the governing board that Blanchard might benefit from a merger.

Living Water did have a relationship with Blanchard’s campus in Warrenville, but the church did not interact much with members from Blanchard’s Wheaton campus.

Mitch was unwilling to risk Living Water’s growth by merging with another church, but he wondered if God was answering his prayer. The central question became, “Could we reach the increasing diversity of our area more effectively together than apart?”

The Task Force

Hoping to discern God’s will, both churches chose five representatives to form a merger task force. Yet the challenge remained of preventing the larger, majority culture church from assimilating the smaller, minority congregation.

The Living Water and Blanchard worship teams served together at the Anniversary Commissioning Service in 2016. Photo courtesy of Wellspring Alliance Church

But those fears were partially alleviated when an elder, Phil Vischer, said, “For the merger to work, both Living Water and Blanchard will have to bend, but Blanchard will have to bend more.” This comment showed a level of humility and cultural awareness not often seen among majority cultures.

At one point a member of the task force suggested that, in merging, Blanchard would assimilate Living Water. The district stepped in when needed to prevent a cultural assimilation, ensuring that both churches would be equals in the merger and even waiving certain regulations for the first year of the merger to allow equal representation on the governing board.

Task force member Greg Wurtz had attended Blanchard for 30 years. Though surprised by the idea of a merger, he sensed the Holy Spirit moving the leadership of both churches toward a major change.

Through many meetings and long hours, the task force members recognized one another’s gifts and displayed disarming vulnerability. From the beginning Greg appreciated the prayerfulness of the Living Water representatives.

“My early appreciation and respect developed into unity with and love for the other task force members,” he says.

Pairing Strengths

Initially, the two congregations disapproved of the merger, but they softened to the idea as new friendships developed and the task force saw that the energy of the younger Living Water could complement the maturity of Blanchard.

Wellspring enjoys a diversity of ages at their prayer meetings. Photo courtesy of Wellspring Alliance Church

Whereas Blanchard’s home groups had stagnated, Living Water’s small groups brought newcomers into their church. On the other hand, Blanchard’s decentralized governing model helped to stabilize the church and avoid making sudden decisions.

“Living Water was like a sailboat that could move quickly but capsize easily, while Blanchard was more stable, like a cruise ship, that took more time to turn,” Mitch says.

Greg also thought that by respecting and preserving cultural differences among themselves, the new church could appeal to the diversity of the area.

In August 2015, 95 percent of the Blanchard and Living Water congregations voted to merge and become Wellspring Alliance Church with Mitch as the senior pastor. During their two-year “understanding” phase, the two congregations occupied the same buildings and enjoyed some joint events. In 2017 Wellspring completely integrated its services, worship teams, and youth groups.

Becoming One

As Wellspring’s multi-cultural small groups proliferate, unlikely friends find common ground in Christ and know better how to love one another.

Wellspring kept its Living Water and Blanchard small groups intact but also formed new groups which were open to all of Wellspring, including the Wheaton Home Group. Photo courtesy of Wellspring Alliance Church

Wellspring member Donna Broadhurst recalled a prayer meeting wherein Mitch had urged participants to pray for someone sitting near them. Donna prayed with a Korean lady from Living Water. Though neither woman could understand the other’s language, Donna knew that their Father heard both prayers. “It was a joyful experience for me to interact with one of my new ‘merger sisters,’ and I think it was for her too,” she says.

In one small group comprised of married couples, a lady who had come from Living Water listened as an older gentleman from Blanchard expressed his love for his wife in front of everyone. She was so stunned and moved by this display of affection that she began to cry. She could not imagine her father saying such a thing to her mother in public.

From 2015–2018 church attendance grew from 445 to 751. Services include African Americans, Anglo Americans, Hispanic Americans, and South Asian Americans. All services are in English with Korean translation in the 11:00 a.m. Sunday service at the Wheaton campus. Visitors and new members comment on Wellspring’s diversity, vitality, and focus on prayer.

An Indian couple who recently joined the church had been believers before they found Wellspring, but they had had trouble settling into a church in Wheaton. The husband remarked, “In most American churches, Christianity is draped in an American flag.” At Wellspring, however, Christ is the only unifying factor.

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