church reaches community
Isaac Olivarez (April 13, 2003)
not much competition for attention in the small
town of Sheldon, Wis., population 250. Highway
194, which bisects the township, doubles as
the main street. People shop and visit at two
small, privately owned grocery stores, a senior
citizens facility and a bank. Two bars, a dance
hall and a restaurant vie for patrons’
town’s limited attractions are one reason
Barry Johnson, senior pastor of Sheldon Full
Gospel Tabernacle, sees opportunities to share
the gospel. What’s more, Johnson says
a dedication to prayer and a renewed openness
to the Holy Spirit have revolutionized the Assemblies
of God church and are spilling over into the
community. Attendance at SFGT has grown steadily
from eight people in 1987 — when Johnson
became pastor of the formerly independent full
gospel church — to more than 150 today.
all comes back to servanthood,” Johnson,
41, says. “Jesus was a servant, and we
want everyone in our church — Sunday school
teachers, ushers and Communion servers —
to love people even in their failures.”
attitude has helped establish friendships between
SFGT church members and others in the community,
and has taken Johnson into virtually every nook
and cranny of Sheldon, including the taverns,
to preach the gospel.
he visits, discussions turn spiritual, Johnson
says, noting a day in 1994 when he was called
to a saloon following a fight. “I noticed
blood on the floor, and before long I was teaching
about the atonement of Christ’s blood
to 15 men.”
a girl, Ruth Ann Cizek attended the church with
her parents. But as she grew older, she turned
away from God and bought a tavern in Ladysmith,
17 miles northwest of Sheldon.
Cizek’s father, who attended SFGT for
58 years, died in 2000, Cizek received an unexpected
challenge from Johnson, who spoke at the funeral.
Johnson looked me in the eyes and told me, ‘I
pray you follow your father’s footsteps,’
” Cizek, 60, recalls. “It was gripping.
It was like he was telling me I was supposed
to be there.” A month later, Cizek and
her husband shut down their bar.
next year at SFGT’s building dedication,
Cizek accepted Christ as Savior. “I went
to the dedication for my father because I wanted
to be part of it for him,” Cizek recalls.
“That was my first trip to the altar,
and I’ve been attending since.”
have been drawn to the church by the seeker-friendly
Groothousen, a self-proclaimed former bar hopper,
began attending SFGT at the invitation of his
sister, Donna. Groothousen says curiosity and
conviction kept him coming back, until he committed
his life to Christ four years ago. Today he
is the drummer on the worship team.
Word was presented in a way that related to
me,” says Groothousen, 30. “The
amount I was drinking was unbelievable, and
God just took the desire away.”
penchant for servanthood is exemplified by discipleship.
The church facilitates growth by offering 13
Sunday school classes and a commitment to discipling
newcomers. The youth group, Ground Zero (zero
tolerance for sin), reaches out to area teens
with youth rallies every other month. At the
inaugural rally in 1999, 16 teenagers accepted
Christ as Savior.
is an atmosphere here that’s been implemented
by the Holy Spirit,” Johnson says. “It
is important to our congregation that we have
a Spirit-filled service, and it is drawing people
to the altar.”