MOLINE — New Life Fellowship has seen a 46 percent growth in attendance in four years under new management.
The Rev. Brad Swartout has seen the "miracle" unfold.
Swartout replaced the Rev. Rick McGough at the helm of the ship McGough had captained for more than 30 years.
Churches experiencing the loss of such a longtime pastor usually see the opposite happening, Swartout said. They normally see dramatic losses of attendance and halting programs.
He credits a long transformation program McGough arranged for offsetting the problem.
McGough took on another ministry as an Apologetics traveling evangelist.
Swartout started coming to New Life when he was 5 years old and McGough was his pastor.
Swartout's now 43, returned to the church and joined the staff in 2006.
Since then, he's seen New Life's youth ministry dramatically expand.
New Life had completed building a children's wing in the summer of 2017.
It also added an additional worship time, and now meets at 9 and 11 a.m., and 1:30 and 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The 1:30 p.m. service is in Swahili, delivered by the Rev. Kakozi Muzaliwa, who speaks nine languages.
New Life also added a new campus at 807 Elk St., Geneseo, where 10:30 a.m. Sunday services get held.
The Moline campus has gotten so big that the church needs to expand its parking lot, Swartout said. Its 13-year-old auditorium also needs renovations, and the church needs to add some more room for office staff it has added.
"We are landlocked," Swartout said. "We hope to take down some houses and garages because we need to add 25 percent more parking space."
"We'be been meeting with city planner Shawn Christ and talking about the options," ensuring neighbors get treated fair and equitably, Swartout said.
New Life also holds a school of ministry here, led by Dr. Ken Lundeen.
The church also supports more than 60 missionaries worldwide and takes three to four mission trips a year, including one March 18, that Swartout plans to take starting March 18, for a trip to Texas to do more Hurricane Harvey relief, as soon as he returns from celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary.
"We have a highly productive community, doing community outreach events and prioritizing partnerships that are an asset to our community," he said.
"We've financed school assemblies that bring in non-religious speakers who address a number of things, such as surviving abuse or anti-bullying," Swartout said. "We look at our community and see suicides and drug abuse going on around us, and we ask how can we help, and do it by getting motivational messages out."
New Life has seen some great results and a lot of positive feedback but has suspended its "Catalyst" program, as it is called, and is "looking at what else it can do," after hearing from a Freedom from Religion Foundation, which claimed the church has acted inappropriately by supporting and advertising school assemblies.
"There was a lot of misunderstanding involved," of what they were doing with a school and the whole idea of separation of state and school issues, and an Equal Act Law, that governs public access rights to all groups, including those representing churches, Swartout said.
"Our hope and goal is to be an asset, but not a problem for superintendents and principals," he said. "Not a lot of organizations are doing a lot right now of partnering with youth. Our heart is for students to succeed."