Making Room for Who's Next
“This congregation is amazing,” Rev. Stephen Breon said of Platte Woods UMC. “They demonstrate real wisdom in planning for the future and trying to reach the next generation. All of the construction that is taking place here is not for us. It’s for the people we haven’t reached yet.
We’re going beyond our resources and depending on God to make it happen.”
Platte Woods started in the 1950s with a sanctuary that would seat about 150 people. In the 1960s, it added an education wing. In the 1970s, it built what is now the current sanctuary.
“They spent $500,000 to build a 500 seat sanctuary when they only had about 300 people in worship,” Breon said. “I think they took a bigger leap of faith than we are.”
In the 1980s the church built a gymnasium/family life center, one of the first churches in the Conference to do so. As the capital campaign for a recent expansion was launched, Breon preached a sermon series in which he tied a building project to each decade.
“There were a lot of churches that had the same opportunities at the same time as Platte Woods and decided not to extend themselves and expand. You can look around today and see that many of those churches are barely making it now, or they didn’t make it and they are closed,” Breon said. “We’re grateful for the generosity of those who preceded us and hope they are saying that about us 40 years from now.”
Michael Short has been part of Platte Woods UMC for almost 30 years. The son of a Baptist minister and newly married to a Presbyterian, Short and his wife tried different churches where they both felt comfortable and liked Platte Woods UMC. In the nearly three decades that he has been there, he has served on most of the committees, and for the past several years he’s been on the building committee, serving as chair for the last four and a half years.
The building process has been long but intentional, with ebbs and flows, he said. The current addition is part of a plan that started around 2000. When the first phase finished in 2005, the time wasn’t quite right to move into this phase.
The existing part of Platte Woods is more than 40,000 square feet, and has been built in various stages throughout the church’s history. When Platte Woods participated in the Healthy Church Initiative, one of the prescriptions stated that the church really needed a front door or a more obvious entrance to worship for the first-time visitor. There also was very little room between the sanctuary and outside.
“Outside the sanctuary was a very tight, confined space,” said building committee member Carl Hughes. “If people would stop to speak to someone on the way out, it shut down the whole place trying to exit. People felt they needed to rush out to their cars to get out of the way.”
So plans commenced on constructing a more obvious front door with an expanded narthex that would make room for people greeting each other and connecting as they came in and out of worship. About a third of a way through that process, however, plans morphed to a new worship center. Initially the building committee had a more modest plan for expansion, something they could handle within their existing means.
“I said that I think we should do something in which if God’s not in it, it can’t be done,” Breon said.
Platte Woods wasn’t overcrowded, but the church has five worship services in a weekend, and the largest is approaching the 80 percent capacity mark. The church determined it needed more space to reach those who weren’t there.
“We have about 80,000 unchurched people in our area, and we realized that if we can’t get them in the door, we won’t be able to start them down the path to lead them into connection with God’s grace,” Short said.
So it was decided that the new edition would have a 750 seat auditorium.
“While many churches are cutting back, we’re building,” Breon said. “There are so many unchurched people right around us. We see a lot of opportunity for growth. God has not given up on the local church. It’s still a vital part of God’s plan.”
The new worship space isn’t just bigger, it is better, making use of the latest available audio, visual and lighting technology, and designed with a modern worship service in mind.
“Churches need to evolve to address what it takes to have a vibrant worship experience today. We tore down a lot of a building that wasn’t useful to us at this time to be able to create a modern worship space,” Short said. “The level of excitement around this now is gratifying.”
The construction started about 11 months ago. The church hopes to be in the new addition by the end of the year.
People are moving into the Northland in the Kansas City area, and Platte Woods UMC has a well-established reputation. The preschool and parents-day-out at the church have a waiting list. Now the church is posed to reach out to people who were previously not aware of the good things happening there.
“Right now our congregation has the traditional profile of the average member being 57 years old. It is our hope to create a worship experience that will appeal not just one generation younger but two,” Hughes said. “A lot of people don’t have an idea of what is to become of the church, but we know that we need to reach a significantly younger, more diverse part of the population. It’s an exciting time. The next decade will tell us a lot.”
The initial capital campaign at the church has raised $7.1 million in pledges, and about 95 percent of those are already in. The next capital campaign just started.
“Big visions can attract big support,” Breon said. “This is the first time I have ever started a capital campaign before I finished the previous one. And we’re doing a debt campaign to pay off the debt on a building that we’re not in yet. But we planned on this being a seamless transition between capital campaigns, and it should go fine.”
The new edition is 42,000 square feet. The church was also required to do a lot of grading and rain water retention facilities on their property, leaving virtually none of the parking lot or grassy areas of their lot untouched by project’s end. The total cost of the project is about $11.5 million.
Short said it feels great to be able to get inside the space now in the construction phase and anticipate what it will feel like inside.
“I think what we are doing has definitely changed the landscape of our church and will take us down a path of growth for the next 50 years,” Short said.