In July of 1995, after serving 18 years as a Saginaw Police sergeant, following 10 years as an associate pastor, as well as taking 16 missionary trips to many parts of the world, the Lord directed Don Dinninger and his wife Bonnie to give one year of their lives to the mission field. This was confirmed by Rev. Kirk DeVinney, president and founder of Open Door Ministries, Int., a mobile Bible school in Central America. A one year commitment was made to Open Door by the Dinninger’s beginning in September of 1995 and ending in August 1996.
During that year, the Lord spoke to their hearts about pioneering an inner city church in Saginaw after their return from the mission field. The church would be in the west side Old Town District, and the vision was for multi-racial, multi-ethnic, casual dress, family atmosphere where all would feel welcome, loved, wanted and needed. The next year was spent prayfully considering the possibilities of planting the church.
1996 was a very exciting, prosperous and eventful year for Don and Bonnie. Throughout Guatemala, Honduras, and Cuba, they went into many remote villages and taught pastors, (who had never been to Bible college), the Word of God more accurately. God spared their lives numerous times and spoke to them about the mission waiting for them in Saginaw.
The Dinningers returned to Saginaw in August of 1996 and held their first organizational meeting in the family room of their home on Sunday, September 22. Old Town Christian Outreach Center was born. Within three months, the core group had grown to 20-25 so they rented a building at 1916 S. Niagara. November 17, 1996 was the first service held in the old 2,000 sq. foot cement block warehouse. It was a very humble building with concrete floors, insulation showing on the ceiling, and a garage door behind the pulpit. The entire building had one small furnace, no air conditioning and it was here that the congregation learned a valuable lesson: that the church is the people not the building. The little congregation learned to praise the Lord to music tapes. On hot days, Pastor Don opened the garage door behind the pulpit for fresh air. God began to add to the church, which quickly grew to 70-100 people and the building, soon, became inadequate.
The targeted community for the outreach center was the Old Town District and in April of 1997, a building was found at 600 Gratiot, which was right in the middle of that district! The asking price for the building was $125,000 and the negotiated price of $120,000 was accepted. With the help of the Lord, Old Town was able to raise $26,000 for the down payment and another $30, 000 for remodeling. The difficult part was to find a bank willing to give a loan to a small one-year-old church. Finally, the Dinningers used their home as collateral and were able to secure the loan. August through November of 1997 was spent renovating the building inside and out. Walls were removed to form a sanctuary. The ladies bathroom was enlarged and the building was painted as well as scrubbed from top to bottom. It was soon brought up to city and state codes. The majority of the work was done by the church family and friends of Old Town. From December through August of 1998, to accommodate the growth, four more walls were taken down to give a total of 200 seats in the sanctuary. In addition, the nursery was enlarged and a counseling office added. To accommodate growth, in March of 1999, a second service was added.
In January of 2001, the Old Town Soup Kitchen was born because of the need seen in the community. This was a mobile outside soup kitchen that was set up in the area of Fayette and Dearborn. Shortly after, a 20 x 20 foot storage barn was built to accommodate the cases of food brought and stored for the soup kitchen.
In January of 2001 Old Town purchased the home and lot, at 612 Lyon Street and razed it for additional parking. In December of 2002 the church purchased the old horse barn that stood on Mackinaw, and again razed it for more parking. Finally, in 2003 the parking lot was tiled and asphalted so the Old Town Family no longer had to walk through wood chips and mud to come to church! In March of 2004 the church added a third Sunday morning service to make room for the growth that had taken place. In June of 2004, the church began renting space across Fayette Street to be used for the soup kitchen, church and Baby Pantry.
In 2006 the church purchased the house on Harrison at Mackinaw then soon razed it for parking.
By the 10th anniversary, Old Town attendance was well over 400 men, women, and children.
In January of 2007 negotiations began to purchase the apartment building on the corner of Lyons and S. Harrison, which would also add to the church parking. While the negotiations were still taking place, the last house on the square block became available when the business called “Verdoni Productions” went into foreclosure. While this was taking place on March 8, an old friend of the Dinningers asked to meet with Pastor. His daughters had volunteered at the outdoors soup kitchen and he was so moved by the outreach that he and his wife wanted to construct a building to house a soup kitchen for Saginaw’s west side. The next day a prominent attorney in Saginaw asked to meet with the Dinningers and he also offered to help construct a building to house the soup kitchen. With his help, we received $350,00 from local foundations to construct a state of the art licensed kitchen and the first benefactor constructed the building.
In July of 2007, construction began and in February of 2008, the soup kitchen opened serving hot, nutritious meals. This building also serves as dining hall/sanctuary. At the time Christian Celebration Center in Midland, sent work teams and gave $8,000 to renovate the original church building into the Children’s Center. In October of 2008 the new Children’s Center opened the doors of an enlarged nursery, a toddler room and KIDS Church.
In 2009, the church purchased 520 Gratiot, the building the church had been renting since 2004. The church then purchased two vacant lots on S. Harrison for additional offsite parking. Local foundations helped with both purchases because they are used by the Soup Kitchen. Within months the two lots were developed into 27 parking spaces. As 2009 came to an end, over 700 people called Old Town their church home. Many local denominational churches have become partners in reaching to Saginaw’s hurting and needy.
In 2010 Old Town sent Pastor Dave and Kiley Wilczynski to Caro, Michigan to pioneer Anchor Cove Outreach Church.
In June of 2011, Old Town added a fourth Sunday Service.
Old Town has ordained and licensed lay ministers who have heard the call and pioneer ministries at nursing homes, jails, prisons, half-way, and foster care homes. Other ministries that began through Old Town are the Baby Pantry, Police Chaplaincy and Celebrate Recovery.
The Old Town church family consists of people from many different cultures, lifestyles, and backgrounds. We are a growing congregation serving the people in the area where we have been planted.