Germantown: Bringing new life to an old village
By Kirk Noonan
Enter Germantown, Wis., and you’re transported to an
enchanted village in Germany. Black, red and yellow flags flap quietly.
Bavarian-style architecture accents many buildings. Spires rise from churches
tucked among trees. A wrong turn can quickly lead to a rolling road flanked by
orchards and fields of apples, strawberries and pumpkins.
It’s not difficult to imagine Hansel and Gretel skipping
down the main boulevard with baskets of hot apple strudels under their arms.
Locals welcome anyone who ventures into the village —
which has a strong Catholic and Lutheran presence. But it wasn’t until 2000
that the Assemblies of God established itself in Germantown when Life Church
was planted in a local high school’s auditorium.
Since then, hundreds of residents have flocked to the
church. It’s easy to see why.
On a recent Sunday morning, worship music from the sanctuary
pulsates into the church’s foyer, which has the look and vibe of a Starbucks
coffeehouse. Walls are painted in earth tones, the leather furniture is trendy,
and the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee envelops everyone. The bigger draw,
however, is the friendly people who call this place their church home.
When first-time visitors arrive, student ministries director
Ryan Coggins immediately engages them, then introduces them to several regulars
waiting for the next service to begin.
“I just wanted to check the church out,” a 20-something man
says. “I’ve heard some good things about this place.”
As talk of cars and God ensues, the man appears genuinely
relieved to have made some new friends so fast. Aaron Cole, pastor of Life
Church, says providing an inviting atmosphere and focusing on relationships is
“It’s simple. We win people for Christ through
relationships,” Cole says. “A lot of people who come here haven’t seen church
done the way we’re doing it.”
Cassie Roberts, 23, attests to that. For years she avoided
church because she feared being judged. But after visiting the church, she
says, she noticed the worshippers did just the opposite.
“They went out of their way to greet me and make me feel
welcome,” she says. “I got connected here through relationships.”
Jay Snow had a similar experience. Though he grew up in a
Christian home, he strayed from his faith and started playing in a band,
drinking alcohol and doing drugs. But a chance meeting with a Life Church
member had a transformational effect on him.
“I was invited to practice with the worship team,” Snow, 33,
recalls. “I didn’t want to go at first because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
But my friend persisted, and I finally gave in.”
After each practice Snow’s friend would spend hours in the
church’s parking lot answering his questions about God.
“Eventually I felt convicted,” Snow admits.
He committed his life to Christ, led his girlfriend to a
relationship with the Lord, became a member of the church and now serves as the
church’s creative director.
“It’s awesome because we exist for the people who are out in
the bars partying like I used to do,” he says. “Our niche is giving people a
relevant experience so they have time with the Lord.”
Gary and Maxine Pribanich have been at the church since
Evangel AG in Milwaukee planted it. The couple has seen Life Church grow from a
handful of members to nearly 600 worshippers.
“Early on we were told we would see more people saved than
we had ever seen saved at a church,” Gary Pribanich, 57, says. “That has been
the theme of Life Church since it began because God’s heart is for those who
don’t know Him.”
The Pribaniches say people are attracted to the church for
many reasons, but the church’s desire to embrace those who do not know Jesus
has made an impression on them.
“People can come as they are,” Pribanich adds. “God can
clean them up.”
When Aaron and Tammy Cole came to the church six years ago
they inherited a struggling congregation of less than 100 people who were
reeling after the first pastor had a moral failing.
The Coles must have felt ambitious when they took the
pastorate, as the church’s finances were in disarray, the church was housed in
a tiny storefront, and the church’s reputation had been battered in the
“Because of the faithfulness of God and the leadership of
the core group of people,” Cole says, “the Lord helped navigate this church
through the tough times.”
Members of that core group Cole speaks of agree.
“We knew God would bring us through,” says Kurt Weber, 44, a
long-time member of the church.
Maxine Pribanich concurs.
“Though it was a difficult time, we could feel the holiness
of God,” she says. “He wanted to do things here.”
Another factor in the church’s phenomenal growth has been
Cole’s vision for the pastoral staff and laypeople to get involved in the
community. He joined the Chamber of Commerce, made friends with government
leaders and has engaged local business owners. By doing so, he says, the church
has built inroads throughout the community. And, contends Cole, doing so has
piqued the interest of community members who regularly come by to check out the
“We’ve found favor in the community by getting involved with
the community,” Cole says.
The church also found favor with its landlord, who offered
to sell them the storefront they were leasing plus a neighboring storefront,
the parking lot and several nearby acres for a discounted price.
Plans are afoot to transform the storefront next door
— which once housed one of Germantown’s most popular nightclubs —
into a student ministries center. In a couple of years, estimates Cole, they
will break ground and build a new sanctuary.
“It’s totally the hand of God on this church,” says church
member Rhonda Weber, 45.
With his congregation excited as ever about sharing their
faith and seeing many more of Germantown’s 18,000 residents come to know Jesus
Christ as their personal Savior, Cole could not be happier.
“When I was asked to come here it was like God was saying,
‘I am doing great things here. Come and join Me,’ ” he says.
Perhaps Jay Snow captures the essence of Life Church best
when he says, “God has been so faithful through everything. We’ve learned that
the bigger the step we take, the bigger the blessing He gives.”
KIRK NOONAN is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Simple Plan (knoonan.agblogger.org).
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