Madison Pentecostal Assembly Helps Start
Three Wisconsin Churches
Investing in Faith Communities
|Bishop Eugene Johnson has been splitting his time between
newly formed churches in Beloit and Appleton and Madison
Pentecostal Assembly in Madison.
By Jonathan Gramling
If an effort has the right ingredients, no matter how small and humble the
start, it can grow into a powerful force over time. Elder Eugene Johnson
started out with next to nothing when he first arrived in Madison in 1983. He
had $200 in his pockets and was armed with an undergraduate degree in
economics from LeMoyne College and a master’s of science from the
School of Business at UCLA in urban land economics. And while he had
never been to a formal divinity school, but he has been a Sunday school
student since he was 14-years-old and reads voraciously.
But Johnson had a deep faith in God and a mission that blended together
his understanding, financially, of the ways of the world with the dictates of
God, a mission that looked after the material as well as the spiritual well-
being of his parishioners.
When Johnson first headed to Madison, he did some research on the
“I was doing research on the location of African Americans to see how diverse the city is,” Johnson said. “I called the planning
department and talked to Percy Harvey. Percy said, ‘Who are you, a consultant?’ I said, ‘No, I’m a preacher coming there to establish a church.’
He said, ‘Well the harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few.’ That was the title of my very first message as a preacher in 1976. So I took that
as confirmation that I needed to be here in Madison.”
And so in spite of the cold, Johnson came to Madison with $200 in his pocket and managed to land a job as the interim executive director of
the Madison Urban League before transitioning to a position at the WI Dept. of Development and then the WI Dept. of Transportation.
Johnson formed the Madison Pentecostal Assembly meeting in people’s homes. And within three years, the church had purchased land and
built a church on Nygard Street in the Town of Madison.
“We were facing our challenge to get a conditional use permit to build a church on the south side,” Johnson recalled. “Jim Doyle became our
pro bono lawyer. We went to the County Board of Supervisors. We also had Judy Rendel who was the executive assistant at the Department of
Transportation, a Republican who helped me work through the County Board of Supervisors to talk to each one of them about our plan. Judy
Pfeiffer also helped. Her husband, Bill Lunney was a county supervisor. Carolyn, my wife, worked for her at PICADA. He talked to us about how
to do the public relations with each supervisor, so we worked our way through them. We ultimately wound up with a compromise with an
African American led group of opponents to our building a church there. But we ended up with a compromise. Thanks to all of those people that
we were able to establish our first church.”
Having the land and the conditional use permit was one thing. Obtaining the financing to build the church was another.
“We went back to the Park Bank to ask for a loan to build,” Johnson recalled. “And the banker wanted an unconditional letter of credit. I didn’t
know what all of that was, but someone else had to approve that we were eligible and approved the loan for us and then they would lend us
the money. That was stupid, so we wound up within three years with $87,000 to build a church that cost $125,000. Park Bank would still not
lend us the money. So we went to Joe Daniels Construction whom I love and revere today. He took us down to Anchor Bank and said, ‘These
are good people. Lend them the money.’ And we established a great relationship with Anchor. That’s how we were able to build and add on to
Madison Pentecostal Assembly stayed there until 2000 when they sold their Nygard church to a Latino church and purchased their present
building on Buckeye Road. Originally they had wanted to build a new church.
“We bought 15 acres in McFarland, which has now become the Habitat for Humanity community,” Johnson said. “We sold that land for more
than we paid for it. We took some of that and bought 58 acres in Cottage Grove for future expansion.”
And they paid off their building loan early so that they were debt-free.
In many ways, Johnson takes the long-term approach to building a faith community. When MPA first started, it drew its congregation from
Sommerset-Eric Circle and other economically-challenged neighborhoods. And it grew its congregation’s human capital that in turned led to the
growth of the church’s financial capital. Many of the parishioners developed themselves to the point where they found good-paying jobs and
bought their own homes, often learning how to do these things under the church’s guidance.
“We need to understand the core product that we are delivering to the members, to the worshippers,” Johnson said about his philosophy as a
church leader. “We understand that product. And then if they value it, what we do best, they will pay for it. And in paying for it, they are willing
to make a sacrifice of their resources. Part of that value is not just the worship experience that they get and the care and the love they get from
the congregation, but also the holistic approach of helping them to succeed academically, socially in their marriages and helping them succeed
on their jobs. What I have learned as a pastor who has been involved in the workplace is using the biblical principles on your job and using
secular, workplace principles back in the church in terms of the management of the church and our strategic planning and knowing what our
core product, our core values, our vision, our mission and so forth are and sticking to that and not veering. Some people are involved in a lot
of different things. They are trying to tackle education. They are doing housing. We’re good at church. I’m not going to be the civil rights leader.
We believe in that and strongly advocate for it. But to me, the ultimate thing is the silver rights. If people have silver, they can make choices.
They can make better choices. They can even defer a lot of things. They can compete in the marketplace for their rights better than us having to
advocate for them. Money is the standard of value and worth and so we try to improve the worth of the person, the marketability of the person
in the workplace so that they can demand higher resources. When they get higher wages or do better in their businesses, then through tithing
and offerings, that comes to the church.”
And so through the spiritual side to him, Johnson has grown his flock, both in terms of the number of people attending and in terms of the
financial well-being of its members. And he has used his urban land economics knowledge base to assist the church in making long–term,
profitable investments in land just beyond the urban development area. And that financial muscle has allowed the church to stay in control of
its own destiny, financial freedom.
“Monona State Bank has been very good for us,” Johnson said. “They lent us the money to resurface our parking lot through Payne & Dolan.
And then through Bachman Construction, we installed an elevator for over $250,000. We were the prime contractors and used an African
American lead subcontractor. Bachman was the only one at the time who took an interest at that time in working with the church to build the
elevator that we have here.”
And now, with its spiritual and financial base well solidified, Madison Pentecostal Assembly has been able to answer the call to assist African
Americans and others in forming faith communities in Tomah, Appleton and Beloit.
“We used the line-of-credit that was extended to us by Monona State Bank using our debt-free building as collateral to purchase the church in
Tomah,” Johnson said. “And then we went on to purchase a church in Beloit based upon the assets that we had accumulated, the land that we
have in Cottage Grove.”
And the third church in Appleton was purchased through a personal relationship that Johnson had from Memphis to obtain a loan for the
Appleton church. They are three different congregations united in the same spiritual and material mission of Madison Pentecostal Assembly.
Next issue: A tale of three churches