Six years ago, about 140 people attended weekend services at Newton Christian Church in Newton, Kansas. It was the kind of church where everyone knew everyone else and most people had grown up knowing about God.
But things began to change. “The heart of our people has become more open to those that need the gospel, and we have changed our service to accommodate a welcomeness to those who might not know the Bible or Jesus,” explained Justin Braker, Lead Pastor.
Now Newton Christian Church has about 300 people each week, and Justin said that up to 3/4 of the new faces are unchurched or dechurched. These new faces have brought about new perspectives, new ministry approaches, and the need for a whole new worship space.
People Inviting People
If there is any one thing the church’s leadership could point to that is causing Newton’s growth, it is the church members themselves. “Most of it has been people inviting people,” Justin explained. “We haven’t done any big events. It’s all been organic. One of our members lives in a homeless shelter, and he’s brought more people to church than anyone else.”
The youth of the church reach out as much as the adults. “We recently baptized a family, and it all started with a 12-year-old who came to youth group with a friend,” Justin shared. “He was baptized earlier this year, and his parents witnessed true life change in him. They decided that they wanted to, number one, support the change in him because they liked it, but, number two, they thought they ought to see about it themselves.”
The leadership has reevaluated their language during worship services to make sure that those new to church can follow the message, regardless of their biblical background. “Our goal is to reach the lost, and if you don’t talk in a way that they’ll understand, you’re never going to reach them,” Justin said.
These changes have made it easier for people to visit Newton and there find life, hope, and truth in God’s Word. “This is happening because our people have become very welcoming to those who don’t have a knowledge or are broken,” said Justin. “When they get here, they don’t feel judged. They feel like they’re free to ask questions.”
“If you don’t talk in a way that [the lost will] understand, you’re never going to reach them.” —Justin Braker
While Newton Christian Church gets larger, it is also getting smaller. As people were integrating into the church, both new and previous members were craving deeper relationships. So last fall, the church launched a new small group program called On Track. Now nearly half the church is involved in small groups in some capacity.
Every Wednesday night, about 130 people show up for dinner at 6:00 p.m. Families come together for food and fellowship. Then the kids head to a children’s ministry program in the church while the adults head out to people’s houses for small group time. Two groups also stay at the church so newcomers can easily join.
Thanks to the On Track program, Newton Christian Church members are growing in their marriages, exploring the basics of faith, and learning more about the Gospels and the Old Testament.
A few years ago this kind of community would have felt impossible. Before Newton built a new worship center in 2017, the children were meeting in a double-wide trailer behind the church. Now that 35 kids come every Wednesday night, it would have been less than ideal for kids and volunteers to cram in there with them.
When the new worship center was created, it allowed the former sanctuary to be converted into a children’s area with room for all. Plus the new worship area was built as a multipurpose space, allowing the church to easily cycle between weekend worship setup to tables and chairs for Wednesday dinners.
Yes, This Is for You
The newly renovated church building was a partnership between Newton Christian Church and CDF Capital.
“I can’t speak highly enough of all the people at CDF,” Justin noted. “They made us feel comfortable that this vision God gave to us could actually happen.”
As Justin reflected on his partnership with the CDF team, he noted 3 people: Dirk Scates, Vice President, Ministry Development, who was on call anytime and attended the groundbreaking; Jeff Frankowski, Senior Director, Construction & Planning, Loan Servicing, who kept Justin accountable to turn things in on time (Justin admitted with a laugh); and Chris Davenport, Vice President, Facility Solutions, who refined the vision and brought it to life.
CDF was energized to partner with Newton in return. “Newton Christian Church gets it,” said Dirk. “At the groundbreaking ceremonies you traditionally see the church pastor and maybe a couple of elders with shovels in hand—they turn a spade of dirt to signify the beginning of construction. That’s not what happened here. Newton broke out about 200 shovels, and every person present turned over a shovel full of dirt in unison. That was cool! They are a community, they want to reach their community for Christ, and this was a community effort and a community victory in every way.”
With the space complete and their congregation continuing to thrive, Newton Christian Church has become a model other churches want to emulate as they envision their own campus transformations.
“This is happening because our people have become very welcoming to those who don’t have a knowledge or are broken.” —Justin Braker
“We have a wonderful ministry alliance in the city of Newton,” Justin said. “That has existed for a long time, and we bounce ideas off each other.” So he and the staff have hosted local ministry teams to show them the space and explain their choices. Justin thinks this helps give other churches permission to think outside the box. “When other churches check out our building, they get to see that it’s OK to look different.”
But perhaps the building story Justin enjoys telling the most occurred even before the new space was officially open.
The construction company hired a window washer to do a final cleanup. The man walked in and, admiring the bold colors and design, asked the foreman, “What in the world is this place?” The foreman said it was a church. “No way!” the worker said. “I’ve never been in a church like this.”
It was exactly the kind of reaction Justin and the leadership were hoping for. The window washer was also a drummer, so he naturally gravitated to the drum set in the sanctuary; the folks at the church told him to enjoy playing a while.
This visitor’s response is a perfect example of why Newton Christian Church has restructured their physical space, their messaging, and their attitudes. They want to say to the unchurched: “Yes, this is for you too.”
Read more from The Cornerstone Winter/Spring 2019
We hope you are inspired by the stories in this issue of The Cornerstone. Thanks for being a part of God’s work to transform churches and lives.