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The Arkansas District of the Pentecostal Church of God is, with 150 churches, the largest district within the denomination. The Pentecostal Church of God is also one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Arkansas, exceeded only by the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church. Several Arkansans have played prominent roles in the fellowship’s formation and continued leadership.
Formation and AdvancementOn December 29 and 30, 1919, a small group of pastors, evangelists, and other individuals from across the United States and Canada met in Chicago, Illinois, in an attempt to unite their efforts for evangelism. Among those present for this meeting was Arkansan Eli Jackson DePriest, an evangelist from Black Rock (Lawrence County). This group formed the Pentecostal Assemblies of the USA and adopted participant publisher George C. Brinkman’s The Pentecostal Herald (now The Pentecostal Messenger) as the official organ of the fellowship. At the fellowship’s 1921 convention, Edward Matthews was elected chairman and W. W. Pelton treasurer. Due to growing dissatisfaction with the decisions and actions of the new leadership, a reorganization meeting was held on February 15, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois. J. D. Snowden was chosen as the temporary chairman for the meeting. New officers were elected, and the name of the organization was changed from Pentecostal Assemblies of the USA to the Pentecostal Church of God. Arkansan John B. Huffman was elected general chairman, George C. Brinkman secretary, and James Gillespie treasurer.
Although the movement experienced growth during the Chicago era, this growth was hampered because the men in leadership positions were also involved in other activities. Huffman, for example, continued to pastor the church in Blytheville (Mississippi County) throughout his tenure as general chairman from 1922 to 1924. Stable leadership did not come until 1926, when Rik Field was elected general chairman. During his five-year tenure, he traveled extensively and did much to promote fellowship and “Bible holiness,” admonishing the constituents to live by the guidelines set forth in scripture. He also moved the general offices to Ottumwa, Iowa. After G. F. C. Fons of Fort Smith (Sebastian County) was elected moderator in 1933, the general offices were moved to Kansas City, Missouri. For a short period of time in 1938 and 1939, the general offices were located in Fort Worth, Texas. From 1951 onward, the general offices have been located in Joplin, Missouri.
As of 2008, the Pentecostal Church of God has a total of 1,120 churches in the United States. These churches are grouped into forty districts, and the districts are grouped into six divisions. Through the years, as the number of churches has increased, revisions have been made in district boundaries.
Arkansas District Pentecostal Church of GodInitially, the Arkansas District Pentecostal Church of God was part of a much larger geographical district, the South Central District. By 1950, this district only included southern Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas, with a total of forty-six churches. The first presiding superintendent over this area was W. C. Marcus. (At that time, each district was presided over by a district superintendent.) Erwin T. Kelly was elected as superintendent in 1951 and served until 1959. During his tenure, in 1954, a district campground was purchased near Alma (Crawford County). The purpose for the district campground was, and is today, to provide a place for youth camps, family camps, Bible conferences, retreats, etc. John F. Ivie served as superintendent from 1959 until his death in 1969. He was followed by Elmer L. Redding, Earnest Paul Dougan Sr., Don Shipley, Elmer L. Redding again, and Ronald Grundy. Upon Grundy’s resignation in 2001, James Baker was elected and is the serving bishop as of 2007 (the title “superintendent” having been changed to “bishop” at the national convention in 2001).
Arkansas became a district of its own in 1959, at which time it had seventy-three churches; it retained the name of the South Central District and was also given the Alma campground, which also became the district’s headquarters. Church planting and independent Pentecostal churches joining with the Pentecostal Church of God were both factors in good growth within the much smaller district. In 1998, the district established Church Planters, a program that works with pastors desiring to establish new churches. The success of this program on the east side of the district coupled with a number of independent Pentecostal churches affiliating with the Pentecostal Church of God within the eastern geographical area prompted the need for a more centralized location. The 1999 district convention made the decision to purchase property in central Arkansas and begin the move of the district headquarters and campground facilities. Property was purchased, and construction is underway as of 2008 on the new campus, which is located on Highway 64, three miles west of Vilonia (Faulkner County).
In 1999, the name of the district was changed to Arkansas District Pentecostal Church of God. As of 2007, the district comprises 150 churches in Arkansas and the bootheel of Missouri. These churches are divided into eighteen sections. Each section is presided over by a presbyter. The presbyters serve on the district board and assist the district bishop. Each church is served by a senior pastor who is elected by church members. Each local church is autonomous and may have its own bylaws so long as they do not conflict with the district or national bylaws.
Pentecostal Church of God constituents in Arkansas total approximately 10,285, based on estimates from annual local church reports. In northwest Arkansas, there are two churches—Living Faith in Fayetteville (Washington County) and Trinity in Siloam Springs (Benton County)—whose attendance runs consistently over 400, surging from time to time to over 500. New Life of Van Buren (Crawford County) averages just over 250. There are thirteen churches statewide that average an attendance over 100 but less than 250. One hundred and thirty-four churches average less than 100 in attendance. Many of these churches are multicultural and have among their membership and constituents persons of various ethnic backgrounds. Several churches have outreach ministries, such as prison/jail ministries, food banks, homeless outreach services, convalescent homes, and community programs offering medical help.
Arkansans have continued to serve in important leadership roles in the national fellowship. The 2001 General Convention chose Phillip Redding as general superintendent. He had previously served as evangelist, pastor, district youth director, and district secretary in Arkansas. In 2007, the General Convention chose Charles Scott as general superintendent. He had formerly served as an evangelist, pastor, and youth director of the Arkansas District.
For additional information:Arkansas District Pentecostal Church of God. http://www.arkansaspcg.org/ (accessed December 26, 2007).
Pentecostal Church of God. http://www.pcg.org (accessed December 26, 2007).
The Pentecostal Messenger. Joplin, MO: Messenger Publishing House (1927–).
James BakerArkansas District Pentecostal Church of God
Last Updated 12/12/2011
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