When Dick Frohardt talks about Kaw Prairie Community Church in Lenexa, Kan., he can hardly contain his excitement.
“Lives have been changed here in amazing ways,” he says. “People who have not been to church in years are coming in and embracing the church. It gives me goose bumps when I think about it!”
Dick and five other core-group members have seen the small mission start grow into a vibrant faith community, averaging 650 worshipers each Sunday, since the congregation was founded in 2004.
Some people raise their eyebrows in interest when they learn about this relationship, Dick says. “They are less surprised that we love Jesus, than they are that two different groups that love Jesus can work together.”
It took two years of planning and a variety of funding sources to make Kaw Prairie a reality, says Dan McKnight, pastor. A portion of the funding came from Mission Support — the percentage of weekly congregational offerings that is shared with synods and ELCA churchwide ministries.
“Even though we had local funding, knowing that ELCA churchwide ministries also was supporting us (through churchwide Mission Support) raised our confidence level,” Dan says. “That breathed life and confidence into the mission. That helped me in my leadership to say that the ELCA was making a choice to give us resources when there were a lot of other worthy ministries that could get funding.”
Kaw Prairie provides a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when we come together as a church, says Christina Jackson-Skelton, who is executive director for the Mission Advancement unit of the churchwide ministries.
“This church provides numerous opportunities for members to give over and above their offerings,” she says. “The Vision for Mission appeal is one way for us to come together as a church and do more to increase our reach. It does make a difference.”
Because Vision for Mission provides unrestricted income, it allows the ELCA to carry out its top priorities like planting new congregations, she says. In 2011 the ELCA planted 60 new congregations. The goal for 2012 is to establish 70 more, with a goal of 500 new congregations by 2017 — the 500-year anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
Breaking down barriers
Visitors to Kaw Prairie — some coming to church for the first time and others returning after a long absence — might have skepticism, Dick says.
“There have been people who have been hurt by the church,” he says. “We are trying to help people realize that church can be different. It can be healthy, positive and nurturing.”
One way to achieve that is to remove barriers to create an open, welcoming community.
For example, the congregation has a casual environment, where people feel that they can dress anyway they want. A rock band leads worship each Sunday, and the church has ceramic jugs at the back of the sanctuary allowing people to give as they enter or leave worship.
Dick says there is a 40-minute sermon every Sunday. “People take notes. They love it.”
As Pastor Dan reflects on the past eight years, he says, “It has been very clear that the Lord has blessed us along the way. It has been the gift of the ELCA to help us grow the pie of people who are hearing the gospel in a powerful, new way.”
“We are grateful all around for the teamwork with our partner denomination to help us make a bigger impact on a community that needs Christ badly,” he says.