They’re calling it an adoption merger, and since Jan. 15, Encounter Church has seamlessly paired its congregation with the longstanding worshippers at Evergreen Covenant Church on Mercer Island, according to Encounter lead pastor Michael Lee.
The expansive building at 3200 78th Ave. SE on the Island is now known as Encounter Church, which now holds both 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday services because of its growth since the merger occurred. Sunday numbers have risen from about 280 to around 400 congregants since January and the church will hold an official grand opening on Easter Sunday, April 9. New signage is currently out to bid on placing the Encounter moniker in the spotlight.
With a 73-year vibrant history under its belt — first as Mercer Island Covenant Church and then being renamed Evergreen Covenant Church in 2013 — the local church was drawing less congregants over the years, said Lee, who has served as lead pastor at thriving Encounter (formerly All Nations Community Church) since February of 2020 when the church operated out of Newport High School in Bellevue and then virtually during the pandemic.
Lee said the church community has been embracing the merger, during which the two churches blended their assets.
“Every week we have new visitors from both the Island as well as off the Island. They’ve been really excited about what’s happening and what they could be a part of and making a difference for the community with just the love of God,” said Lee, while relaxing in his office on a recent morning.
Expanding on Encounter’s history, Lee said that All Nations — a Korean immigrant church — was birthed out its mother church of the same name about a dozen years ago near Mountlake Terrace. Upon undergoing some directional changes and joining the Evangelical Covenant Church about a year ago, Lee heard from regional superintendent Greg Yee that Evergreen was looking to merge with a growing church and experience a rejuvenation of its own.
Evergreen’s interim pastor Dave Benedict came up with the wording of an adoption merger, said Lee, noting that the two pastors clicked when they first met to discuss the churches’ potential unification.
“Instantly we would become multicultural, because Encounter is predominantly Asian American, whereas (Evergreen) Covenant was predominantly white,” Lee said. “Encounter was a younger church — our largest demographics were in their 20s and 30s — and Evergreen was comprised of more seasoned individuals. And so by merging, instantly became multicultural and inter-generational, which has just added to the blessing of this merger.”
Lee added that the humble Benedict brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table during their meetings that has guided the Encounter pastor along his journey.
Benedict’s history with the church goes back to the early 1980s when he and his wife met and were married at Mercer Island Covenant, where he served as education director for seven years. After heading to the Midwest to lead a church for many years and then retiring in Ferndale in 2018, Benedict returned to the Island church in a transitional lead pastor role in October of 2021.
“This congregation’s legacy of service to Mercer Island and the greater Seattle area has been powerful, going back over 70 years,” said Benedict, who is now re-retired. “As we considered our future, the greatest desire of the members was that a witness to the Gospel of Jesus on Mercer Island continued. The chance to merge with such a young, vibrant Christ-centered congregation as Encounter Church thrilled us, and we couldn’t be happier than to have our legacy become part of Encounter’s story moving forward.”
Yee said that Evergreen’s seven decades of faithful community engagement provides a solid foundation on which to build the merger.
“Encounter has recently refocused their identity and purpose and have been in an exciting season of growth. We are very excited about the Encounter/Evergreen marriage because it brings two incredible congregations together that have a passion to see God’s best in individual lives, on the Island and throughout the region and the world,” Yee said.
Encounter’s mission, according to Lee, is to make a difference in the world by sharing God’s love and advocating for the most vulnerable, under-served and marginalized people, particularly children of color.
“They have the least resources, they have the least power, the smallest voice, and also children of color just have the most disadvantages in life,” said Lee, adding that Encounter has begun ministries in racial reconciliation, foster care and homelessness and outreach to help victims of sex trafficking.
For more information, visit https://www.encountereastside.org/