The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 23, 2013

Spirit leads churches to merge

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — When two churches merge it can sometimes bring about conflict and strife.

 Eric Keller, pastor of Oakwood Christian Church has some experience in the matter. Last year, Oakwood merged with Davis Park Christian Church.

Keller said a pastor in Tulsa who’d gone through a church merger shared horror stories about his troubles. However, he was impressed with the merger in Enid.

“He wouldn’t believe how well it went. He went through two different ones with some heartache and pain,” Keller said. “When you’re merging churches it’s hard to tell how its going to come because you’re blending two families.”

The two churches merged last August, when Davis Park was lacking space and Oakwood Christian Church was lacking staff.

“It was really just God’s spirit leading people,” Keller said. “It’s been really positive.

“You see what could have happened: turf wars, lots of feelings hurt, lots of preferences,” he said. “We just really didn’t have any of that. It was just: Focus on the Lord. This is His church. It’s not my church or your church.”

In May 2012, Oakwood  was featured in Christian Standard for being one of the fastest-growing, medium-sized churches in the country, with average Sunday attendance of nearly 500 and 16 percent growth in 2011.

The elders at Oakwood were in the process of interviewing candidates to hire a second pastor when Keller and Davis Park Pastor Alan Seibel devised a simpler solution — merge the churches.

Keller said the merger went smoother than he expected, for which he credits both churches’ members.

“I would lend it to the spiritual maturity of the people,”  Keller said. “It was very peaceful. There’s just a sweet unity about the family.”

The church merger is a full-circle development in nearly nine decades of church expansion.

Davis Park was founded Nov. 7, 1926, at 11th and Chestnut, as a result of evangelical expansion by Central Christian Church and University Place Christian Church.

Davis Park later departed the Disciples of Christ denomination and became an independent Christian congregation but continued the legacy of “church planting” by founding Oakwood Christian Church at 401 N. Oakwood in September 1978.

The two churches operated as “one church, multiple locations” under leadership of Davis Park’s elders for the first year. Then, in 1979, Oakwood became a separate congregation.

Keller said the past connection played a role in how easy the transition was.

“A lot of that had to do with we were together before. Our roots were with Davis Park,” he said. “It kind of felt like it was coming back together not just coming together.”

God’s grace also played a part, he said.

“It’s amazing how when God brings something like this together you really feel like it’s Him doing it.”

Keller said Davis Park members were able to fill gaps at Oakwood Christian and brought some new ideas with them.

“It was really a win/win for us, and them,”  he said. “It felt like we could accomplish His kingdom purposes faster and better by coming together.”

Keller said several programs have been done since the churches merged, each successful. He said the programs are likely to continue.

“We did the living Christmas outreach in December,”  he said. “We broke 1,000 people for the first time that day. Everybody was involved with that. This is something we’re offering that’s a Christmas gift to the community and we’re coming together to do this.

“We just saw a lot of people come to church after that. It just blesses a lot of people.”

Since the merger, a ladies’ retreat has been held, vacation Bible school is planned for summer and a family carnival will be held the fall.

“We’ve got several annual events we do here,” Keller said. “Just having the churches together just helps us serve better, just accomplishes more.”

Although the merger resulted in a few members leaving, some of it could be attributed to the larger size of the church post merger.

“There were a few people that left ,but there really wasn’t any animosity or negativity,” Keller said. The church’s attendance now averages about 650, sometimes more.

Services are at 10:30 a.m. Sundays at the church, 401 N. Oakwood.

Easter service are set for 9 and 10:30 a.m.