We are a diverse family seeking to be transformed by the Holy Spirit and to reach our community, especially the marginalized.

Our History & Affiliation
As we reflect upon the history of River of Life, we see an exciting picture of God’s gracious blessing. The theme of this history surrounds the Lord Jesus Christ, whom this church is dedicated to serving, proclaiming, and honoring.

Our church emerged as an outpouring of Dr. Jonathan Burnham’s desire to start churches around the world. This desire was shared and cultivated by the congregation of Hope Evangelical Free Church. in Mason, Ohio . After much prayer and discussion, Hope made a commitment to begin a church in downtown Cincinnati and soon began a search for a church planter.

They learned that Alvin Sanders, a minister in the community, had a burden to start a church, and over time it became clear that the Lord would have him be the pastor of this new work. Alvin, with his wife Caroline, founded River of Life in the summer of 2000 with a community Bible study.

The success River of Life has experienced is due to the generosity of several local ministries. Shortly after we started our Bible study in 2000, CityCURE Ministries allowed one of their staff members to serve as our Youth Pastor. JobsPlus Employment Network gave us office space, and University Christian Church allowed us to meet in their building.

Because these ministries were so Kingdom-minded, River of Life has been able to flourish, drawing people from all types of racial and economic backgrounds. In February of 2003 another remarkable outpouring of generosity occurred as Hope Church voted to acquire a 33,000 square foot facility to serve as our permanent home, with the understanding that River of Life would eventually buy the property from them.

Late in 2007, Pastor Sanders was called to leave River of Life as Senior Pastor, becoming the Director of Reconciliation for the Evangelical Free Church of America. After a thorough search, the elder board recommended Kareem Smith to be the new Senior Pastor. Kareem was elected unanimously in January 2008, and after completing his last year of study in June 2008 at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Kareem assumed the role of Senior Pastor. As the new Senior Pastor, Kareem was “excited to see God multiply the church through revival.” Pastor Kareem preached and taught the Word of God with authority and conviction until December of 2010, when he was led to resign and continue his education by returning to seminary in Dallas Texas. Once again the elder board, pastoral search team, and the entire River of Life congregation continued to pray for God’s direction throughout 2011.  In April 2011, the Lord divinely connected the elder board with Chris Woodard. After much prayer and receiving clear direction from the Lord, Chris Woodard was unanimously voted in to assume the role of Senior Pastor in January 2012.

Pastor Chris Woodard has been a licensed preacher since high school. After attending Moody Bible Institute in his home town of Chicago where he earned a BA in Biblical Languages he also went on to obtain an MBA from National Louis University and an MA in General Theological Studies from Wheaton College.  (click see his full bio)

As we look at this brief sketch of River of Life’s history, we believe that the Lord has blessed us in special ways, and we are very thankful. We humbly and obediently look forward to the days ahead and how God will add new and exciting pages to our history.


River of Life is a member of the Evangelical Free Church of America.

View a Welcome video from our Senior Pastor