Illinois Congregation Celebrates Expansion as They Prepare to Change Closed Nightclub Into a $3m Church Campus

The congregation at Living The Word Church continues to grow. Pastor David Hawkins started with 35 members. COURTESY OF LIVING THE WORD CHURCH VIA TROY ANTHONY PHOTOGRAPHY

His mornings start at 6 a.m. with prayer and a devotional reading, then David Hawkins watches the news, checks his email and picks up a cup of hot coffee to power through the day.

The former pharmaceutical salesman turned full-time pastor likes his coffee hot — preferably piping hot. His regular Starbucks order is a bit of an inside joke between him and his congregation at Living The Word Church in Collinsville.

“Cold coffee doesn’t exist to me” Hawkins, 42, said with a chuckle on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. “Ice coffee is a sin against God.”

His sense of humor and modern preaching style draws hundreds of people to Living The Word every week, and soon Hawkins will build a new $3 million campus to accommodate them. It’s all part of a vision he has for his interdenominational church and the area.

The former Wild Country nightclub Collinsville, which closed in January, will be transformed into an event space and youth church for Living The Word. Hawkins wants to add on with a new high-tech auditorium next door.

“This spot came on our radar, and we felt that it was perfect for what we are doing,” Hawkins said. “We look forward to seeing more growth.”



Building a tech-savvy sanctuary from the ground up and flipping an old nightclub into event space and youth center is a matter of faith for Hawkins, who grew up in his father’s church.

He took over in 1998 after his dad, Matthew Lee Hawkins, had a fatal heart attack. The family was devastated, but Hawkins was determined to keep the church afloat with help from his mother, Hazel Hawkins. The church was known as “The Living Word” back then.

Hawkins family Photo.jpg
David Hawkins and his family during his adolescent years in 1982. Hawkins is pictured in the white suit. Provided by David Hawkins.

Hawkins was still a student at the University of Missouri when he started preaching in his late father’s pulpit.

“I drove in from Mizzou every weekend, typically on a Sunday morning,” Hawkins recalled. “I’d get up at 4 o’clock, then I would get in at about 7 or 8 o’clock, then I would pick up some people on the way in to take them to church.”

After two months of commuting as a college student, Hawkins announced he was ready to take over as the lead pastor of the church, but his decision was met with resistance from existing members. Nearly two dozen members got up and walked out when announced his plan.

The church had about 24 members at the time, and most thought he was too young for the job.

“While I’m talking 22 people get up and walk out,” Hawkins said. “It was like watching some horror movie.”

That moment didn’t deter Hawkins. With help from his mother, Hazel, he graduated from the University of Missouri, entered the workforce and moved the church out of the Baugh Avenue location his father built.

Eventually LTWC moved into a new building in East St. Louis on North 80th Street with about 35 members on the roster. He walked the surrounding streets and knocked on doors to encourage the neighborhood to come in for a visit.

Explosive growth came when the church merged with Overflow Worship Center in Collinsville in 2011.


More than 1,300 people attended his Easter service in 2018. A larger crowd is expected to flood the convention center in Collinsville this year. Service begins at 10 a.m. April 21, 1 Gateway Dr.

Hawkins books the Gateway Center once a year for the “Super Bowl of Sunday services.” Typical Sunday services are spent in a rented space at 9500 Collinsville Road. The building doubles as daycare.

Average Sunday morning attendance peaks at about 700 people attending one of two morning services. There’s one at 9:15 a.m. and another at 11:15 a.m. every Sunday at 9500 Collinsville Road behind the Jack in a Box in town.

“We really are authentic people,” Hawkins said. “We just let people know that we are not here to judge where you are. We just want to give you tools to become the better you that God created.”

The congregation is becoming more diverse overtime, but a large group of Hawkins’ members are young black professionals.

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Source: Belleville News-Democrat