By FRED KRONER
When Lutz and Deb Braunig took over as pastors at the Mahomet Church of the Nazarene, they had the unanimous support of the congregation.
The membership, in 1996, was nine.
During the decades, the pastors have seen the numbers of worshippers rise, decline, rise and fall again.
It’s similar to life cycles that follow humans from birth to death, with a new generation left behind to carry on.
At its zenith, the Mahomet Church of the Nazarene had 120 members, but that was only after it had grown to 70 and then dropped to about 40.
Currently, there are about two dozen worshippers.
Changes will be taking place, starting with a special Sunday service this week at 3 p.m.
“For every business and organization, the key to staying alive is changing and adapting,” Deb Braunig said. “That doesn’t mean you change your value system, but how you communicate and relate to people.
“There needs to be a culture change to capture the younger generation.”
That philosophy doesn’t coincide with expectations of long-time church attendees.
“Places of worship are places people tend to think of being where nothing changes,” Deb Braunig said. “That’s not realistic in order to stay relevant in any culture. To stay alive, you have to embrace change, and change happens very rapidly these days.”
Sunday’s afternoon service will be the final one at the church, located on Turkey Farm Road, until Easter Sunday in 2019.
The Nazarene Church has had a presence in Mahomet for 91 years. In 1927, the actual building which had served a congregation in Tolono was relocated to Mahomet, on Lincoln Street (east of what is now Busey Bank).
“The Mahomet Church of the Nazarene will cease to exist, but it will die a respectable death,” Lutz Braunig said.
The denomination is not going away.
Instead, technology will be updated and the building will be renovated and given a new look, inside and outside, by Resurrection Sunday, 2019, when Deb Braunig said, “We will burst forward as a new plant, with a new name, a new look and a new ministry to the community of Mahomet.”
The renovation will cost approximately $80,000.
Some details, such as the name, are yet to be determined, but Lutz Braunig is confident that whatever title is given to the building, “it will still have a Nazarene denomination.”
The Braunigs will be a part of the revival, which will feature an affiliation with the Bloomington Point of Change Church.
“They are the mother church and we will be a campus church,” Lutz Braunig said.
The Braunigs’ role will be to serve as campus pastors.
“We will be there to encourage, bless and cheer them on,” Deb Braunig said. “It’s time to pass the torch to the younger generation; not when we’re 80 or 90.”
Added Lutz Braunig: “A lot of times when a Church goes through this (change), the senior pastor leaves, but we get to stay and be a part of this.”
Sunday’s service will be relevant to the theme of rebirth.
“The congregation and what the church is, will continue,” Lutz Braunig said. “The church is not the building. The ministry will not stop.”
This Sunday, the seed for expansion and growth will start to be nurtured.
“We will take the legacy and plant it,” Deb Braunig said, “and allow the seed to go dormant during the winter.
“We will learn to be more than a congregation that meets for prayer, three songs, a sermon and the offering.”
The local Nazarene congregation will continue to meet on a weekly basis — likely at the 3 p.m. time slot — but the location for those services has not yet been announced.
The Braunigs aren’t the only ones excited about the future prospects.
“I feel it could make wonderful growth for our church and bring back new life to our church,” member Rose Ross said.
Though Lutz Braunig has lived in three countries, covering two continents (born in Berlin, Germany, and schooled in Manitoba, Canada, before moving to Mahomet), his wife can trace her heritage back to when the Church of the Nazarene was founded in Mahomet.
“I actually knew three members of the original congregation, my great grandmother, my great aunt and my great uncle,” the former Debbie Coffin said.
Her great-grandmother, Mamie Burton, was the first pastor at the Mahomet Church of the Nazarene in 1927.
Fittingly, it was Deb Braunig who delivered the final sermon last Sunday.
She addressed the intentions of those from the past as well as those currently in leadership positions.
“What was the motivation of the people who started the (Mahomet) congregation,” Deb Braunig said, “and why are we doing this?
“Their motivation was two levels, their love for God and their love for Mahomet and the people of Mahomet.”
Those same feelings are why the Braunigs didn’t seek to abandon the church and close it permanently.
“It’s important to us,” she said. “We have a deep commitment to God and a passion for the people of Mahomet.”
When the couple finally does step aside, Lutz Braunig said, “the way the community of Mahomet has embraced us, our retirement will be here.”
The changes will not be a shock to the congregation. For weeks, the Bloomington POC Church has sent different people to deliver the weekly sermons while the Braunigs attended in Bloomington to learn more about what to expect.
“We’ve been indoctrinated into their church culture,” Lutz Braunig said. “We’ve learned to love what they do and we’ve been loved by them.”
As the rebirth moves forward, he emphasized that all are welcome.
“It’s not just open to our congregation,” Lutz Braunig said. “It’s open to anyone who wants to be a part of it.”
The Braunigs have only had a taste of what the future holds. There are many specifics to be answered.
They have much yet to learn.
“We’ll find new ways (to minister),” Deb Braunig said. “It’s almost like learning a new language.
“It’s what we will be spending the next six months doing. We’re getting out of our comfort zone.”
Those interested in seeing what a part of the future might look like can attend what Deb Braunig called, “a catalyst event that will launch us,” set for Friday Aug. 24 from 6-9 p.m. and for Saturday, Aug. 25 from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
It is titled “Living Out Of The Box” and the co-presenters will be Todd Keller and Karin Orwig, pastors at the Bloomington POC Church.
“The only anxiety,” Deb Braunig said, “is the unknown. We don’t know exactly what it will look like in April.”
That’s also part of the intrigue.
“As long as doors keep opening, we’ll keep going,” she said. “We’re pioneering.”
Similar transitions have been made successfully in churches on both the East and West coasts, “but has not been adapted much in the Midwest,” Deb Braunig said.
Nearly two decades ago, the Braunigs considered an overhaul such as what will now take place, but found little support.
“It wasn’t embraced by the enthusiasm which this group has embraced it with,” she said.
When the current Mahomet Church of the Nazarene congregation was informed about the possible changes, the news was received by universal support.
“The anticipation is great,” Lutz Braunig said.