By David Davolt
COVID-19 impacted churches everywhere in 2020, but two churches in Boise, Idaho, saw their futures forever altered through a merger that has spurred two years of growth and almost 50 baptisms during 2022.
Capital City Christian Church was a debt-free, 110-year-old congregation that saw its minister resign in February 2020, a month before national COVID closures occurred. By the time Capital City regathered in May, attendance had slipped from the 90s to fewer than 50 worshipping in an auditorium that seated more than 300.
Two miles up the road, Hill City Church was a growing church meeting in a remodeled grocery store. The 2013 church plant, led by three Boise Bible College graduates, was averaging almost 200 in the months leading up to the pandemic. At that time, the church was considering a five-year lease on property that would hike their facilities costs to about $20,000 monthly.
The decision by these two church families to come together and consolidate operations under the name Hill City Church at Capital City’s existing site—which has since seen two years of extensive remodeling—has been a blessing to all involved and is fueling kingdom growth.
Hill City was originally a campus of The Pursuit and had become independent in September 2018. The church had solid leadership with lead pastor Josh Branham, associate pastor Jake Wright, and family pastor Andrew Branham. All three leaders graduated from Boise Bible College in 2009. During college, the three had dreamed of starting a church together.
Capital City had a large building with more than 16,000 square feet (much of it in need of maintenance), dwindling attendance, and no senior minister.
David Davolt, vice president of advancement at Boise Bible College, a longtime member at Capital City, was working with the elders. Capital City’s leadership considered such options as hiring another minister, becoming an elder-led church, or merging with a larger church in the area. Davolt suggested they meet with the ministers from Hill City, whom he knew from the Bible college.
Josh Branham of Hill City remembers the day discussions started.
“The day before our elders were ready to decide on an expensive long-term lease, I got a text from Dave to have coffee that morning,” he said. “That was the start of this merger.”
THE MERGER MOVED QUICKLY
That initial conversation in early July 2020 prompted leaders from both churches to meet more formally to explore the idea of merging. The process began with much prayer as the two leadership groups got to know each other.
In September 2020, the ministers from Hill City preached at Capital City, and both congregations were advised of the possible merger. Opinions were solicited. Hill City members were overwhelmingly positive about the possibility. The members at Capital City needed more details and time to decide whether it was a good move. The biggest objection from Capital City’s folks was the planned use of the name Hill City Church moving forward.
Capital City’s building had originally been built by the Disciples of Christ, and a Christian church had met there since 1921. Many longtime members were cautious about the merger until they got to know Wright and the Branham brothers better. A few joint worship evenings were held in the Capital City building.
“In the beginning of our discussions, I knew we were going in a good direction,” said Will Lou, formerly chairman of the elders at Capital City. “The results are much better than anything I imagined!”
Church mergers often take one to two years to complete. This merger was finalized on Jan. 1, 2021, just six months after the possibility was first discussed. The churches’ mission statements and planning documents were similar and very little needed to be changed.
BUILDING IMPROVEMENTS AND MILESTONES
The first two years as a combined church have seen many milestones.
The century-old building has gone through a $2.5 million renovation overseen by a designer who specializes in restoring older buildings. The original building style has been maintained, though upgrades and maintenance improvements have occurred from the roof of the three-story building to the basement.
The church’s basement was converted to children’s classrooms, which now overflow every Sunday. A unique use of clear garage doors now divides a large room. The main-floor worship center received an enlarged stage, new sound system and projection, new carpet, and refurbished and repadded pews. New restrooms were added and the baptistery was retiled (with a heater added). New lighting was added throughout the building and the electrical system was upgraded. The final project includes air conditioning and upgrading the heating system.
The church has met the budget every month, with double the amount needed given many months. “The Next 110” building fund raised more than $700,000. The church’s debt stands at $250,000, and the goal is to be debt-free sometime this year.
The church’s monthly missions budget exceeds $5,000 and helps support outreach missions in Africa, India, the Philippines, Australia, Asia, and Eastern Europe. That same budget also gives to Boise Bible College and several local missions. A missions team traveled to the Philippines in October 2022.
Attendance has grown from just over 200 the first few months of 2021 to an average of more than 500 adults plus over 100 youth and children weekly! Attendance for Easter services in 2022 exceeded 900, while three Christmas Eve services in 2022 saw combined attendance of more than 1,000! The church strongly emphasizes Life Groups, with 385 people meeting regularly in 54 different groups. There were 48 baptisms in 2022.
This merger of two like-minded churches has increased the influence of Jesus in the city of Boise, and Hill City’s leadership hopes to extend that influence internationally through the support of church planting. Leadership already is talking about developing an internship/residency program to help in planting a church in the next couple years.
“God has abundantly blessed our church with people who are eagerly and faithfully devoted to serving, giving, praying, community, discipleship, outreach, and so much more,” associate pastor Jake Wright said. “I can’t wait to see what he is going to do in the next decade.”
David Davolt and his wife, Melody, began attending Capital City Christian Church upon moving to Boise in 2004. David served as the vice president of advancement at Boise Bible College from 2004 through 2022. COVID-19 forced him off the road in 2020 and allowed him to lead Capital City’s elders after the resignation of their minister. He recently retired from BBC and currently serves as an elder at Hill City Church.