Mindy Carter can remember walking into the new Church of the Good Shepherd for the first time in 1974.

Mindy Carter can remember walking into the new Church of the Good Shepherd for the first time in 1974.

She looked around before turning to the Rev. Tom Wilson, the founding minister of the United Methodist congregation five years earlier, and telling him it didn't look all that much like a church to her.

"It's not what it looks like," Wilson told her. "It's what goes on inside."

Members and ministers, past and present, of the church on Sharon Woods Boulevard will gather on Sunday, Nov. 15, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Church of the Good Shepherd and to reflect on all that has gone on inside the building and the neighborhood that surrounds it.

"The church grew up with the neighborhood, quite literally," said the Rev. Don Wallick, the current pastor.

Like the neighborhood, and the Northland area in general, Church of the Good Shepherd has experienced some decline and many changes from the heyday of new subdivisions and supporting institutions sprouting throughout the region back in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Back when the church was founded, Wallick said, the median income in the neighborhood was higher than the national average and crime was practically unheard of. Today, median income is below the national average and crime is a major concern. Back in the day, Sharon Woods was a virtually all-white suburban neighborhood and practically everyone who belonged to Church of the Good Shepherd lived nearby, Wallick said. Now, the area surrounding the church is a mix of races and cultures, and many members from the early days have moved away.

Wallick, who became the pastor on Sept. 1, 2006, said that in the mid-1990s, average attendance at Sunday services was 200. That had fallen to around 95 the year he took over.

"So they'd lost more than half," Wallick said.

Average worship attendance is back up these days to just under 130.

"So it's going in the right direction," Wallick said.

Urban neighborhoods, the minister said, sometimes disintegrate and sometimes rebound.

The jury is still out on the neighborhood around Church of the Good Shepherd, but Wallick said that he and the members of his congregation are determined to try to be part of helping with improvement.

"We think that there's still a place for a loving, neighborhood church that's invested in the community around it," Wallick said.

"The church is in an area that has changed a lot over the years ... and I think one of the things we've done this year is to reach out to the local community and increased our involvement with the local community," said Dan Miller, Church of the Good Shepherd 40th celebration committee chairman and lay leader.

"We have a long way to go," Wallick said.

And the church has come a long way from the humble beginnings of Tom Wilson knocking on doors in a new subdivision and seeking recruits for a new United Methodist congregation.

Charter members Dave and Shirley Friedlander recalled that Wilson and another minister named Wilson, who was not related to the first one, knocked on the door of the home they'd just moved to from Huntington, W.Va., and invited them to join the new church.

"We found a home," Shirley Friedlander said.

"We have had some great ministers and some great times with the members of the congregation," Dave Friedlander said.

"We've gotten to be family, and we're still there," Shirley Friedlander added. "It's been a good experience."

"In the very beginning we didn't have a church," charter member Mindy Carter said.

"We were meeting in a school at first, and had a trailer that had all our chairs and things like that in it," recalled another charter member, Larry E. Staats. "Every Sunday it was set up and tear down and put it all in the trailer."

Vacation Bible School was held in somebody's garage, Staats said.

"I remember those times with affection," he added.

Dan and Helen Miller joined the church in March 1970.

"My wife and I just missed being charter members," the celebration committee chairman said.

The couple have remained members all these years, although they've moved out of the immediate neighborhood.

"It's our community," Dan Miller said. "Even though we've moved, we've only moved about three miles away. One of our beliefs is you need to support your community church.

"We've certainly developed a number of deep friendships over the years, and that has meant a lot."

Miller said that founding minister Wilson, who is to be on hand for the Nov. 15 celebration, was crucial in getting things off on the right foot.

"Tom was a very strong supporter and I think helped the church get off to a very good start," Miller said. "We were very fortunate to have him as the first minister."

Wallick considers himself to be fortunate to have some of Church of the Good Shepherd's charter and early members still part of the congregation.

"That's an experience you don't always get as a pastor," said Wallick, who was 5 years old when the church was founded.

Sometimes, according to Wallick, old-guard members of a congregation resist a new minister's efforts to make changes like being more involved in the surrounding community and being more open to different people. To a person, he said, the charter and early members of Church of the Good Shepherd have embraced his ideas for change, which has helped sway others.

"People sit up and take notice," Wallick said.

Planning for the 40th anniversary celebration began early in 2009.

"It's been some work, but the committee has been very responsive. We've gotten good support from various members," Miller said. "I think people are feeling good about being able to celebrate this as an important moment in our church's life."