Dressed in blue jeans and a plaid button down, Dan Nichols is a regular guy in his 30s.
A husband, and a father to a 6-year-old and a toddler, his weekly to-do list includes taking the boys to the movies and shopping for their favorite Taco Tuesday ingredients — and preparing his weekly sermon.
As the new lead pastor for Grace Christian Fellowship in Cortlandville, Nichols — that’s the Rev. Dan Nichols — wants to bring his family values into his sermons, to build trust with his congregants and motivate them to see their potential.
“I tend to want more for people than they want for themselves, so I try to use preaching as a way to say there’s more to this life and so much more potential that God has for each and every one of us,” Nichols said. “Just because we jack up his designs doesn’t mean that he isn’t good, that he doesn’t have a plan. I try to mobilize people to action, focusing on transformation over simply giving them an information dump.”
His casual attire and conversational approach is a shift from his predecessor, the Rev. Mike Dunn, who preferred suit coats and recently retired.
“It’s been awesome,” said the Rev. Nick Dunn, the discipleship pastor and Mike Dunn’s son. “Lots of energy. I’m an extrovert, but Dan is like an extrovert-plus, he brings a whole other level of energy with him.”
The church has come a long way, Nick Dunn said. His father was a pastor for nearly 12 years, helping the fellowship grow and evolve into a healthier atmosphere for the team and congregation.
“It’s unbelievable what God has done here, it’s an incredible place with very loving people,” Nichols said. “I’ve always been really passionate about the team aspect, and I came here welcomed by the most supportive and encouraging team that really had my back.”
A a school-aged Nichols would not have expected this life for himself.
“I never wanted to be a pastor,” he said. “I grew up in a pastor’s home — my dad is an incredible pastor — but I saw the ugly sides of church, so I told myself there’s no way I’m gonna do this. But then again, be careful what you tell God you’re not going to do.”
He got back into reading Scripture in college.
“Looking at the book of Acts, it talks about the early church and seeing what God’s design is, and I understood that just because we jack up God’s design doesn’t mean that his design is bad,” Nichols said. “Then I plugged into a really healthy church where lives were being changed, people were being freed from addictions and all kinds of darkness. I said, ‘Man, if this is what it’s about, then I want to be a part of that.’”
Nichols began his career traveling across the country establishing new churches through the Northeast Collaborative.
“We started as just four of us — friends in our early 20s — moving into inner-city Wilkes Barre in a really rough neighborhood,” Nichols said. Growing up, he had never been in a neighborhood like this, now at age 23 he was moving into a house where the neighbors consisted of a few sex offenders, a heroin dealer and a prostitute.
“We just started by inviting our neighbors over for a meal, and eventually we started reading through the ‘Letter of Paul to the Colossians’ in the book of Colossians in the Bible,” Nichols said. “One thing after another, and we had started living life with people in that area, and from that came this amazing church called Restore Church — only rule is there’s no perfect people allowed.”
Nichols said now he hopes to be a part of the Cortland community and help it thrive.
“I’m most excited to see what we’re going to be able to do and what Dan can bring to the community,” Dunn said. “From nonprofits to business leaders to school teachers — when they can engage with people, the whole town benefits.”
“When we planted the Restore Church in Pennsylvania, we had the same values that we have here in Cortland — in the city, for the city,” Nichols said. “When followers of Jesus are in a geographical region, that region should thrive in every way, because that’s what God wants for this world.”
Fundraiser coming July 31
Grace Christian Fellowship will have an invitational miniature golf tournament July 31 at Shipwreck Amusements on Route 13 in Cortlandville. Ten percent of the proceeds from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., if you tell the staff you’re there for the fundraiser, will go to the Cortland Pregnancy Center.