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Covenant Church faces financial challenges
Fewer members and fewer dollars in the collection plate has left the Mercer Island Covenant Church at a crossroads. After months of soul searching, church leaders have decided that their church needs a different direction. Their mission now is to keep the congregation and its church financially viable as well as a place for fellowship and faith.
Asimakoupoulos, 59, knowing what was at stake for the Island church, agrees. He decided that the church needed someone other than himself to lead.
He has resigned. His last day as head pastor at the church is May 29.
“It is a challenge to operate a church beyond what is required to care for its members,” he said.
“They need a leader with a different type of style,” he said. “They need an administrator rather than a minister. Someone who is willing to devote more time to take care of the business of keeping the church financially strong,” he observed.
Asimakoupoulos’ strengths and interests lie elsewhere, he said. He points to his work both inside and outside the church walls these past six years as an example. He has sought to broaden and expand his faith community beyond the church walls.
Tim Krell, who is the chairman of the church Elder Board said that “he and others are sad that Asimakoupoulos’ has resigned.”
“He has been a great pastor in so many ways. I think the job here has turned out to be a different one than he thought it would be.”
However, the business of keeping the congregation financially solvent remains urgent.
“It is the tough economic times, Krell said, for everyone and especially non-profits.”
The congregation has been grappling with the direction of the church for many months, he explained. “We have had conferences, workshops and surveys to see where we are going,” he said. “We are not as healthy as we were in 2005.”
There are presently 230 families registered with the church, about 20 percent less than five years ago.
About 60 percent of the membership is over age 65. An average of 300 attend services each week with attendance peaking on Easter Sunday at 600. Asimakoupoulos estimates that about 700 people consider Covenant as their church.
Asimakoupoulos said that the annual budget for the church is around $800,000.
Fewer members mean less revenue. Older people are often on fixed incomes. The church has been using reserves to make up the difference. Just a half dozen or so contribute on the order of 20 percent of the revenues each month.
The church has made some painful decisions over the past year or two, cutting hours for some pastors and workers.
But Krell said the deliberate revitalization process has made the congregation hopeful for the future.
“We have been working on a long term plan, he said. “We have a lot of great people here and are looking ahead to 2012 and beyond.”
According to media reports, all faith organizations across the United States are facing similar circumstances. With few exceptions, churches of established faiths have been closing or consolidating their congregations with church attendance remaining flat or even declining.
Despite these challenges and their own personal ones, church members at Covenant have answered the call to help others, Asimakoupoulos said.
For example, the congregation has contributed more than $150,000 to what he terms “cross-cultural evangelism,” supporting 23 charities. The pastor also challenged his church to “revisit their Christmas giving” by buying $50 wheelchairs to send overseas. To date, he said, the church has purchased some 5,000 wheelchairs.
But more important to Asimakoupoulos, the seventh pastor at the church, has been expanding the faith by engaging the community.
After becoming pastor, in late 2005, Asimakoupoulos quickly immersed himself here. He joined the Clergy Association and Rotary Club. He was asked to join the Mercer Island School District’s Advisory Council. He has written a column for the Reporter. He can regularly be found at Starbucks talking with somewhat surprising partners. He relishes his relationships with ministers of other faiths from Jewish to Russian Orthodox. He makes it a point to support community causes, even cancelling regular services to get his entire congregation to participate in the Mercer Island Rotary Run.
But those initiatives will be moot if the church does not have the financial resources to continue.
The church is trying to survive now, Asimakoupoulos said.
“The answer is to posture ourselves as attractive to young families, keep youth engaged as they grow older and simply to do more marketing,” Asimakoupoulos said. “It will mean focusing and determining what we should become rather than what it is easier to be.”
“I have enjoyed my ministry here immensely, I have been engaged and happy,” he said.
The pastor and his wife will remain on the Island.
“I am looking forward to the next season of my ministry,” Asimakoupoulos said.
Krell said an interim pastor will be named later this spring.
The Mercer Island Covenant Church is holding a reception for Greg Asimakoupoulos on Saturday, May 28, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Community Center at Mercer View, 8236 S.E. 24th Street.