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White’s Ferry Road: A church of small groups

THE WHITE’S FERRY ROAD CHURCH  is known around the globe for its wide-ranging ministries. Now the northeast Louisiana congregation refocuses on developing relationships among its members and improving local outreach.

WEST MONROE, La. — Walk into Carol Ogle’s country home on the first Monday of the month and you’ll find a dozen women from the White’s Ferry Road church gathered for a meal and Bible study.
It’s a scene repeated in homes, coffee shops, restaurants and storefronts throughout the community every day of the week — Christians from this congregation gathering to study, support one another and form the kind of relationships that keep them connected to God and each other.
The small group at Ogle’s home creates an opportunity for women to connect on an intergenerational level, she said. Relationships and Bible teaching form the framework for many discussions.
“Our church is large, but we get to know these younger women on a personal basis,” said Ogle, a part of the Hearts to Home program since it began four years ago. Now, more than 135 West Monroe women participate in these small groups.
“White’s Ferry Road is a church of small groups,” said Joneal Kirby, director of the Christian Counseling and Resource Center at the church. “There is nobody in our church who is not in some small group.”
West Monroe sits just off U.S. Highway 20, astride the Ouachita River in the northeastern part of the Pelican State.
The unmistakable smell of paper mills permeates the air in this hard-working, factory town.
Across the river is the neighboring city of Monroe. Surrounded by tall pines and blackjack oak, they are known as the Twin Cities of northeast Louisiana, with a combined population of 65,000.
Add the farm-filled suburbs and smaller communities within driving distance and the numbers swell to roughly 200,000.
The congregation of 1,000 recently celebrated its 50th anniversary — a milestone made more special by the commitment of its members to stay in the area despite the lure of larger cities with more amenities.
“You couldn’t find any better people than our elders or our members,” said Wayne McDaniel, a police officer. “This is not a very prosperous area, and people have offers to leave Monroe, but they choose to stay here because of the church and its elders.”
For many years, this Louisiana congregation has stood as a beacon among Churches of Christ — with an influence felt far beyond its humble hometown.
White’s Ferry Road Relief Ministries, World Radio Gospel Broadcasts, AMEN (American Military Evangelizing Nations) and the now-defunct White’s Ferry Road School of Biblical Studies are among the high-profile ministries associated with the congregation. That’s not to mention the well-known songbooks published by Howard Books, a West Monroe-based company founded by the late Alton Howard, a longtime elder and song leader at White’s Ferry Road.
But since the mid-1990s, White’s Ferry Road has undergone a kind of transformation at home, refocusing on developing relationships within the local church and intensifying local outreach, said Alan Robertson, one of two pulpit ministers along with Mike Kellett.
Today, members say launching small groups has transformed the congregation into a close-knit, extended family with many new outreach opportunities.
“The other ministries are still vital and necessary, but this emphasis has made us a lot more relational and more connected, which was our goal,” said Robertson, 43.  “We got into the lives of people.”
With that increased involvement and emphasis came discoveries that led the congregation on a journey that may be its longest ever: recovery.
In a more informal, confidential setting, flanked by those they trusted, members and visitors felt freer to open up about their problems, struggles and addictions. They wanted help and accountability, and they wanted it from a Christ-centered perspective.
Kevin Nieman, clinical director of the Christian Counseling Center, a resource for the church and the public, said this level of intimacy is critical to White’s Ferry Road’s new mission.
He and Carl Allison, an elder who has been on staff for 40 years, say members really knowing what’s going on in each others’ lives creates the kind of non-judgmental atmosphere where people can be honest and seek healing.
“We have responses just about every Sunday, and when people come forward, no one ever comes down alone,” Allison said. “Anywhere from five to 25 people come down with them.”
Kirby, in her counseling capacity, called the small groups important evangelistic tools because enthusiastic members, who enjoy the personal and spiritual benefits of the groups, invite their friends to participate along with them.
In consultation with the elders, Kirby and Nieman have used small groups to integrate mentoring programs into the women’s and men’s ministries.
“I am in a great place to direct my clients to resources every day,” said Nieman, who leads a men’s ministry where participants work through issues of identity, integrity and intimacy.
“I can send them into these groups because they are going to meet four or five guys, including an older and more mature Christians, and they are going to know their names and start looking for them at the meetings.”
Another successful small-group ministry and major outreach tool at White’s Ferry Road is a model Celebrate Recovery program. Mac and Mary Owen, who became involved with alcohol and drugs in high school, lead this Christ-centered recovery ministry for “hurts, habits or hang-ups.”
They began an “overcomers outreach” in 1990 for drug and alcohol addicts.
By 2003 that ministry grew into a Friday night Celebrate Recovery program with a meal, testimonials, fellowship and small-group discussions that range from addictions to sexual abuse.
“We started with a goal of reaching one hurting person and ended up being the largest local outreach in our congregation,” Mac Owen, told The Christian Chronicle.
An average of 30 people per year have been baptized or restored, Mary Owen said.
During the past five years, attendance has grown from 30 to nearly 150, including people such as John Grigson, 51, whose life was once filled with alcohol, drugs and broken marriages.
“I was all about the stuff, the material things,” Grigson said. “But Mac put me in touch with a group of people who realized that life was definitely not about the stuff but about their walk with the Lord.”
He credits the love and acceptance of White’s Ferry Road members with changing his life and bringing him to Christ. “It is neat to see so many people who are now Christians involved in church who never were involved before,” said Mac Owen, who is now an elder.
Mary Owen agrees. “The Lord has taken the ashes of our lives and turned them into something beautiful,” she said. “We can’t stop telling other people what God has done in our lives.”
Church members cite a compassionate, open leadership as one of the reasons the church has been able to embrace and absorb people with major problems who are working through difficult life situations.
“The leaders have the love of God within them,” said Robert Dixon, a former resident of Alexandria, La., who got a new start at West Monroe. He calls the church his “forever family.”
”They started this church with a burning desire to reach out and touch people with the compassion that Jesus had,” Dixon said.
Knowing one another on a deeper level and being able to respond lovingly to one another’s needs have changed the church for the better, said elder and former pulpit minister Bill Smith. He has been part of the church staff for 45 years.
More than any other program, Celebrate Recovery has helped the church break out of legalism, though the congregation had been trying for years, Smith said.
Now, people respond weekly to the gospel at White’s Ferry Road with candid confessions such as “I’ve been committing adultery for eight years” or “I’ve been on drugs and lost my family.”
For the first year or two after these candid confessions began, some people in the congregation were mildly shocked, Smith said.
“But soon it was all gone, members were seeing the changes, and they were saying, ‘What a wondrous thing!’”


LOCATION: Northeastern Louisiana, across the Ouachita River from Monroe.
WEB SITE: www.wfrchurch.org
MINISTRY STAFF: Alan Robertson and Mike Kellett, preaching ministers; Heath Arthur and David Bromley, youth leaders; and Paul Stephens, senior adults minister.
LEADERSHIP: Elders Carl Allison, John Howard, Randall Kirby, Steve Idom, Mac Owen, Phil Robertson and Bill Smith.
MISSIONS: The church supports work in Mexico and the New Orleans area.
HISTORY: The congregation started in 1958 when members began meeting at 3201 N 7th Street. Including 40 members of the Slack Street church, the first service had 78 present.
FACILITY: The 125,000-square-foot building is covered with a heat-resistant surface that makes it look like stucco. Four additions to the original building created a larger auditorium, additional classrooms and a total of 25 offices.


We Care Ministries | www.wecareministries.com
This group of Christians travels the country helping churches grow through seminar training and campaign evangelism.
Director Larry West, who has 30 years of experience, says more than 220 evangelistic meetings in 12 years have yielded 5,000 conversions. Serving on the staff are other full-time evangelists, including a Hispanic worker for Spanish-speaking churches.
White’s Ferry Road Relief Ministries | www.wfrchurch.org/relief
This disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization has had a part in feeding, clothing, caring for medical needs and repairing homes and church buildings around the world in the name of Jesus, using sister churches and missionaries. Under the leadership of Don Yelton, $50 million has been raised from Churches of Christ and assistance delivered to 41 nations and 49 states.
World Radio Gospel Broadcasts | www.wfr.org
Inspired by White’s Ferry Road leaders Alton Howard, Bill Smith and Leon Telford, World Radio has aimed to fund the broadcasting of the gospel around the world since 1963. Today, director Ken Bolden says World Radio uses 124 speakers to broadcast into 140 nations in 50 foreign languages to a potential audience of 500 million people weekly.
American Military Evangelizing Nations | www.wfrchurch.org/amen
AMEN is a ministry dedicated to serving Christians in the military and their families. Begun in 1976 as an outreach of White’s Ferry Road, AMEN continues under the leadership of Don Yelton to connect Christians with local Churches of Christ and to encourage members of the military to evangelize their friends and plant churches where they are.

White’s Ferry Road School of Biblical Studies
Launched in 1970, the school, overseen by elders of the White’s Ferry Road church, began with 21 full-time students. It soon became an integral part of the congregation. About 750 students graduated from its two-year programs. Graduates and their families have served in 50 states and 41 nations. Carl Allison served as the director of the school until its closing in 1992.

  • Feedback
    I went to school here when it had its school of Biblical studies and I met some of the most magnificent people there who helped me so far along my way to discovering the real truths that I wanted so much to learn. The instruction I received there wasn’t perfect but the spirit of wanting the truth was there more than any place I’d ever seen and it was wonderful to say the least. Since those days I’ve come to know the truth to perfection and am finally ready, really ready, to share it with everyone that will give me the time of day. That’s what happens when you finally learn to recognize the truth with absolute certainty and know that you can give an irrefutable answer to anyone who asks you to.
    David McClellan
    Okla City, Oklahoma
    July, 24 2013
    I just finished reading Phil Robertson’s book and it is a wonderful story. I am a deacon at Brookland and admire what this family is doing to promote the gospel. I am a retired agriculture teacher. May God continue to bless our nation and all our people. And may God continue to bless all who teach and spread the gospel.
    Homer Lenderman
    church of Christ @ Brookland
    Brookland, Arkansas
    July, 6 2013
    I just finished reading Phil Robertson’s book and it is a wonderful story. I am a deacon at Brookland and admire what this family is doing to promote the gospel. I am a retired agriculture teacher. May God continue to bless our nation and all our people. And may God continue to bless all who teach and spread the gospel.
    Homer Lenderman
    church of Christ @ Brookland
    Brookland, Arkansas
    July, 6 2013
    Is Bill Smith still alive?
    Someone please send me his phone #.
    I was at School of Preaching from 1977-1979
    Wendyl Heffington
    cushing church of Christ
    Cushing , OKlahoma
    United States
    May, 22 2013
    Is Bill Smith still alive? In the early 70’s my husband and became Christian and went to a couple of the lecture ships at white ferry rd church. My husband loved Bill Smith and learned so much under his teaching. I still have his old tapes. My husband is gone but if Bill is alive please let me know. I was reminded of the church there by a world radio
    Book a friend sent me and it had Bill’s name in it.
    Mary humphrey
    Jefferson , Texas
    April, 30 2013
    Please forward this to Phil Robertson. Easter Sunday our family gets together for dinner. Of 25 or more I am the only one who attends church. The Walker family never says grace. This Easter the youngest Walker, Riley got very excited when we all sat down to dinner. He said “Let’s say the Amen!” We watch Duck Dynasty and knew what he was talking about so grandma said yes we could say grace…Well Riley made sure that no one started eating.. When we all got to the table Riley had us all hold hands. When we finished the grace Riley looked around at everyone real happy and said “Ok! Say AMEN! Thanks for living a good life to give an example to all. I am sure that more Americans than ever are sitting down to the table and saying AMEN!
    Jeanette Walker
    Warrenton Presbyterian Church
    Warrenton, VA
    April, 20 2013
    Would the Duck Dynasty crew come visit our youth? Some are struggeling and a visit would be so inspirational! They are fascinated with the fact that the DD crew are christians. We would LOVE a visit. We are brothers in Christ…and we are woodsie people too. Maybe you could film here. We love guns and you might find a moonshine steel or two in our hills to contend with. Love you guys and how you have been a positive light on christianity!!
    Cherie Doyle
    Jonesbourough, Tennessee
    March, 31 2013
    Every year in sep- we hold a gospel singing with a special guest. we sing to spread the gospel anywhere that we can at no charge. we also help people that are in need by singing at benifits. We take the money from food sales to recover some of our losses. we was wondering if Phil Robertson would come and be our guest speaker this year? I listen to him all the time on you tube there r many around here that I think he could get through to. Please let me know. Thank You and God Bless.
    wanda locke
    The DeArmond Family Music Ministries
    greenville, kentucky
    March, 26 2013
    I have a grandson stationed in meridian , Ms. I would like to
    get him connected with other members of the church. You did this for my son 25 years ago. Thank you again for the work you do
    Mary wilson
    mary wilson
    riverwood c of c
    nashville, tn
    January, 26 2013
    I have a grandson stationed in meridian , Ms. I would like to
    get him connected with other members of the church. You did this for my son 25 years ago. Thank you again for the work you do
    Mary wilson
    mary wilson
    riverwood c of c
    nashville, tn
    January, 26 2013
    just a note to Bill Smith. Thank you Mr. Smith for teaching grace and mercy and the work of the cross to many, especially Carl Tuell, when I moved to Fl.26 years ago, I found out that God loved me as well as Jesus! I grew up in a c,of Christ in west tn. every week 3x per week…never knew God loved me, I was afraid of Him. I knew Jesus loved me,but thought His Dad would keep me out because I made mistakes and I wasn’t perfect. Thank you Bill Smith. Your willingness to be used by the Lord to teach the Good News, has changed my life, the lives of my two sons and and untold number thru the teaching of Carl when at Jax.Bch. God Bless You. I will find you in heaven,when we all get there and say hello!!
    Belinda Hatcher
    Jax Bch
    Jacksonville, FL
    October, 26 2012
    I think you guys do a great work in evangelizing the word of God. I believe World Radio is a great tool in spreading the word.
    As far as the tattoo and the cross symbol I believe it is not needed. As for symbols and signs, represents the virtual where spirit and truth represents the heart, in which our faith must be.
    Kevin Martin
    Manteca Church of chirst
    Manteca, Ca
    September, 15 2012
    My mother received a book from Bro. Carl Allison in 1988. It was International New Testament Study Commentary by Roger E Dickson. Do you have any more of these books? This one is getting a lot of loose pages. Thank you
    Carolyn Macer
    Mt. Carmel Church of Christ
    Mt. Carmel, Illinois
    July, 19 2012
    I just today started reading your website. I am always thrilled beyond belief to read & investigate articles or websites regarding coC. I was drawn to the mention of Bro. Alton Howard. I had the privilege of being in the audience in the 70’s when he lead singing on Wed.pm service in Tulsa,OK. There was about 2-3000 in aud. & I had never been blessed with anything that beautiful. I could only think of how beautiful heaven would be. I would appr. getting the Chronicle as I am physically disabled now & unable to walk or(unable to go to church.) I get “In Search” & my daughter keeps me updated on A Cappella recordings. In Christ, Judy M.
    Judy Middleton
    Kannapolis coC
    Kannapolis, NC
    May, 25 2012
    I enjoyed reading about the many ways Christians are loving and serving others, especially at White’s Ferry Road. This is something we will do as well as tutor in the home during the summer. Thank You for serving Christ is such a great way.
    kayrecia C. McNeil
    Capitol Street Church of Christ
    Jackson, Mississippi 39209
    July, 5 2011
    My heartfelt appreciation to WFR Relief Ministries for their involvement in relief efforts. In Kenya, their generous contributions have helped greatly with the famine situation here. As you know, hunger at its most severe, invades every part of your body and your mind. Sometimes it creeps through your limbs leaving you so weak and dizzy that you can’t do the most essential tasks. At other times, it affects you more lethally so that your mind is full of desperate thoughts. With an empty stomach, it is even hard to concentrate in worship. While we can’t control disasters: We can help people adapt to the environments they live in… We can make a long term difference!
    David Marube
    Nyamue Church of Christ
    Kisii, Nyanza
    December, 1 2009
    I’m surprised you don’t mention Larry West, who leads the “We Care” evangelism campaigns. There’s no other ministry that has galvanized the saints into doing the Lord’s work more than this organization!
    August, 25 2008

Filed under: Churches That Work Uncategorized

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