Grace Church Finds Its Future
by Relying on God’s Grace
By Elliott Wright*
Olathe, Kansas, August 6, 2007—A decade ago Grace United Methodist Church in Olathe, Kansas faced a dilemma. It had outgrown its building and could not expand on the site; the church owned property at a new location but could not find a buyer for the old, a sale considered essential to finance a move.
So, the members of Grace Church decided to rely on God’s grace for the future. They built a new facility and kept the old as a mission center—the Center of Grace. Today, Grace Church is a two-campus congregation with more than 1,000 people in worship each weekend. For a year, a new Spanish-speaking congregation has met at the mission center, which also houses a wide range of educational and social ministries.
Grace was one of 12 “teaching churches” linked to the 2007 United Methodist School of Congregational Development. Participants in the school picked the congregations they wanted to visit on Sunday, August 5.
“We are a 150-year-old new church start,” said the Rev. Nanette Roberts, the senior pastor of Grace, while meeting with the 25 visitors, noting that the anniversary will be marked in 2008.
The Grace experience has several lessons to teach other congregations that are either undergoing revitalization of just starting out.
The first lesson is to remain alert to unexpected opportunities, to the “grace factor.” Rev. Roberts voiced the theological framework in her Holy Communion meditation on August 5: “There is room at God’s table for all…we receive but also give food to a starving world.”
The Sunday service bulletin announced the congregation’s objectives: “Loving God, Living Like Jesus, Serving the World.”
“It costs us money to keep the old building as a mission center, but we would have lost support if we had let it go,” said the Rev. Gary Schrag, pastor of Grace when the two-campus decision was made. “We were forced to think a great deal about what God wanted us to do.” Schrag also spoke briefly with the visiting congregational developers.
The second lesson is that strong mission and ministry are multipliers. Well-founded programs in education, worship, and social outreach generate more ministry options.
Olathe has some 122,000 people and is the fifth-largest city in Kansas. It is the county seat of Johnson County, which has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country, but also centers of poverty, particularly among recent immigrants.
The Center of Grace, located in the older building constructed in 1959, sponsors a free community dinner every Wednesday, offers older-adult activities, runs a clothes closet, provides emergency food supplies, collects medical supplies for mission trips, and sponsors a Boy Scout troop.
In the area of Hispanic/Latino ministry, Unidos en Cristo is a one-year-old Hispanic fellowship with worship every Sunday. The Rev. Sylvia Romero, a native of Colombia and the pastor, is a missioner through the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry. She is also studying toward ordination.
There is adult Bible study in Spanish, bilingual Sunday school and vacation Bible school for youngsters, and a weekly family night. Rev. Romero has organized monthly community meetings dealing with services for Hispanics.
Also in the Center of Grace are a Step Up program that offers high school dropouts the chance to earn their diplomas, and an extensive English as a Second Language program run in cooperation with the Johnson County Community College and the Olathe School District. Pathway to Hope encourages and empowers families with members living with mental disease. Even Start works with migrant families with children under seven years of age that need English skills, parenting classes, home visits, and tutoring. Even Start partners include the community college, the school district, and the Olathe Family Resource Center.
At the new site, a multipurpose building no longer provides adequate program space, and Grace looks forward to enlarging facilities in a few years. Rev. Roberts said that Grace still owes $1.8 million on its new structure, but will press forward in faith toward additional worship and educational space.
The pastor said that many members of the congregation are highly educated professionals, a factor that led to the formation of a Lay Academy, with classes primarily offered during the week in Bible study, Christian ethics, and theological issues. She described the congregation’s theology as “moderate to liberal.”
Grace Church has four associate pastors. The responsibilities of Rev. Dustin Petz include the Lay Academy; his wife, the Rev. Shelly Petz, oversees the Center of Grace and works with spiritual formation; the Rev. Tom Bailey assists with pastoral ministry, and the Rev. Sylvia Romero works with the Hispanic ministry. The church budget is currently $1.45 million per year, and Grace is working toward paying 100 percent of its apportionments, a goal that was difficult as it moved into becoming a two-campus congregation.
*Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries
Date posted: Aug 07, 2007