Redemption Church held our first public service on September 7, 2003. We were a scrappy church plant from Heartland Community Church. Heartland, who has a long history of church planting, identified two leaders—Kevin Cloud & Tim Suttle—and charged them to reproduce Heartland in the Western suburbs of Kansas City along the K-10 corridor and Lawrence. Originally called “The K-10 Project,” Redemption’s official name for the first few years was Heartland.k10. Heartland was a Seeker Model Church, so that is how Redemption began. We met in the lunchroom of Meadow Lane Elementary School for the first year. Our services smelled like tacos, and it was a less than stellar facility, especially for our kids. But it was a wonderful start to the life of our church.
At the beginning of year two we moved to Prairie Trail Middle School, with more room and a better situation for Children’s ministry.
Being a portable church was a ton of work. Volunteers showed up before 6am to start pulling containers out of a trailer and setting up every single piece of equipment we needed in order to hold church. When it was over, everything had to go back into the trailer and to the storage facility. It was a grueling Sunday for many people. Year three we made our third change of venue, reconfiguring all of our gear to work at Olathe Northwest High School, where we stayed until 2011.
Many of our members were driving in from nearby Lawrence, KS. Lawrence is a thirty-minute drive down K-10 highway, and it’s the home of the University of Kansas. The drive was tough for the college students, so we started doing a second service on campus each week. Our teams would travel to Lawrence Sunday evening to do the same service we had done that morning. We built parallel infrastructures, with teams covering all of the various technical aspects of a church service, as well as community structures and outreach.
We soon realized that the culture of Lawrence was drastically different from the culture of white, middle-class, suburban Johnson County. Our programming elements didn’t have the same impact in both places. Packages designed to speak to students and the more eclectic culture of Lawrence fell flat in the suburbs, and vice versa. It just wasn’t going to work. So we hired a site pastor named Seth Davidson and spun them off into their own congregation over the course of the next two years, and they continue to be a wonderful church to this day (Vintage Church).
For three years we worked hard, had a ton of fun, and grew like crazy. By the time we started year three, we had grown from two families to around four hundred people including the Lawrence campus. But around year three we began to struggle as a church. Many factors contributed to the tension we felt at the time. The new had worn off. It was getting harder to sustain the same level of effort to pull off a service every week, and our inexperience began to show. The original three-year commitment for our core team expired and many of them slipped away during the summer, leaving to go back to Heartland, or to other more established churches. One of our young staff members was arrested and went to jail. Our attendance began to plateau. All of the sudden we were no longer growing.
Around that same time, our mother ship, Heartland, decided they were land-locked at their current location and needed to move if they ever wanted to grow bigger. They started raising money, and soon began work on a $10 million facility just a few miles from where we were meeting. Most of the leaders in our church were still committed to one another and to the church. To their great credit, hardly any of them decided to bail. The overwhelming majority still serve at a high capacity in Redemption Church to this day. The rest of this story wouldn’t be nearly as incredible if it weren’t for those core believers who stuck with Redemption through thick and thin. For the time being, though, we were in the doldrums. What to do…
“One of the amazing periods of grace in the process of leading this church, was the period of time from 2006-2008 when we began to think critically about the Seeker Model,” our senior pastor Tim Suttle wrote concerning that season. “At that time, a new model was emerging—the organic church, which can also go by the moniker “house church” or “missional communities.” It was tempting to just grab a new model and adapt to it. But our leadership had this sense that we wanted something deeper than a new model or strategy. In fact we ended up realizing that we didn’t want a model at all. We wanted to learn who God had made us to be as a community. It took a couple of years, and it was pretty painful. We lost a lot of people during that time. But it made us into the church we are today.”
We began a season of discovery. We changed our name to Redemption Church, and started to think more carefully about our ecclesiology (just a fancy name for the doctrine of the church—what the church is, and what it is for). It was still a very difficult time, and we were still losing people. But we were discovering something integral to God’s heart for the world, and for the church. A big part of that discovery was a commitment to serving the mission of God as it relates to justice and mercy. We began a relationship with Daniel Bocanegra, the pastor of a Hispanic church called Via de Esperanza. We began work with a food pantry Daniel’s church helped to run. We started to engage in acts of mercy and justice. We started to look for ways to serve the community, and stopped worrying about how to grow our church.
In 2008 Kevin Cloud left staff, and Tim Suttle took over as the senior pastor. We continued the period of discovery, and stopped worrying about how many people were going to leave our church. We decided that we would only concern ourselves with being as faithful as we could be, and leave all of the numbers up to God. By the time it was all said and done, we would have shrunk to around 125 people.
About that time some of our members became immersed in caring for some of the homeless of our city. They were taking food and basic supplies to them three times a week. Soon, they began picking up some of their homeless friends and bringing them to church on Sunday mornings. This part of our church has continued to grow and flourish over the past few years. We continued to partner with the Hispanic community in Kansas City, and have started dreaming about what it would be like to form a long-term partnership with those on the margins of our community.
In 2010 we made the decision to try and buy a little church in one of the only areas of dense poverty and diversity in all of Johnson County. It was an old Lutheran church building that was being used by a school. About 45 families committed to contribute over and above our normal giving for a three-year period, a generous bank lent us the money, and we bought a little outpost, and moved into a part of the city where most people were moving out. We renovated the building on a shoe-string budget and moved in in the fall of 2011.
Since that time we have watched in amazement as God has continued to use Redemption Church to care for the least of these. On any given Sunday homeless folks start showing up around 7 or 7:30am. They come in out of the cold or heat, get a shower, some coffee and a donut. When worship starts at 10am we sing songs together, read the scriptures, bless our children, listen to teaching, and receive communion. About the time Redemption is finishing and exiting the worship space, Daniel’s church, Via de Esperanza, is coming in to set up for their worship service. It’s kind of a cross-cultural experience, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.