In the 1840s, German and Dutch Lutheran families on the Rattan Prairie (what is now Bethalto) were meeting in homes to worship. Several attended the area’s first Lutheran church, built in 1842 on the southern edge of Liberty Prairie, near present Route 159. Early services were conducted by circuit riders, notably Rev. C.G.H. Schliepsick. Formal organization of Zion Lutheran Church came in 1859, with the arrival of the first resident pastor, Rev. D.W. Warns. The founding date was just four years after the Village of Bethalto was platted. The same pastor, also in 1859, established Emmaus Lutheran Church at Dorsey and continued to serve both churches for five years. For its first half-century, most services at Zion were conducted in German. Regular English services began in 1913 with the arrival of Pastor W.G. Bruegmann.
The earliest church voters minutes date back to Dec. 26, 1870. Zion started its first elementary school in 1877. The first teacher was Rev. J.G. Neutzel, the pastor of the congregation. The curriculum consisted of the “three R’s,” plus training for Christian living and church membership. At a time when a good day’s wage was 50 cents, tuition cost 75 cents a month for each student. Today, Zion’s preschool and kindergarten-through-eighth grade classes are available to both member and nonmember families. In addition to the core curriculum, Zion offers students the opportunity to participate in basketball, band,
computer instruction, volleyball, choir, Scouts, etc.
Zion’s first house of worship was a log structure near the church’s current location. It was replaced in 1865 by a brick 28-by-42-foot building, which included four rooms for the pastor’s residence. A steeple was added to the church in 1892 to house its 1,000-pound bell. The bell has been moved to each new building. A frame structure was built in 1910 when the brick building could no longer accommodate the growing congregation.
The older portion of Zion’s current sanctuary was built in 1957, with the newer Ministry Center (front portion) added in 2004. The building is handicap accessible and has an elevator. Zion currently offers four weekly worship services for its approximately 1,600 members, along with opportunities to participate in choir, Praise Band, Ladies Aid, Men’s Club, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, mission trips, disaster-relief trips, Stephen Ministry, and many other organizations that serve the church and community.