Urban Impact church offers unique approach
Carrying the Gospel
to inner-city KC
By Brian Koonce
March 7, 2006
KANSAS CITY – Urban Impact is not your mother’s church, and that’s exactly why bi-vocational pastor Mike Brown says the church is going to make an impact in urban Kansas City.
The church meets each Saturday night for a worship service and a fellowship meal in what was the common room of the historic Bellerive Apartment building near the intersection of Main Street and Armour in midtown Kansas City. Most of the 30 or so who come each week live in the building.
“We want to compete for people’s Saturday nights, when they tend to do a lot of things that are very ungodly,” said Brown.
But the meeting time and place of Urban Impact is just the beginning.
The bulletin says, “Relax. You’ll never be put on the spot, singled out or embarrassed.” Brown said that’s important for people who would not normally come to a traditional Missouri Baptist church.
“There’s no trick or gimmick to it,” he said. “People are very suspicious and turned off by traditional means of ‘doing church.’ Ninety-eight percent of the people who come are unchurched and are not Christians. We have three or four people that I know of who have AIDS, and we’ll have four or five homosexuals who will attend. There is a lot of alcoholism and drug problems too. You’ve got to do church differently in an area like this.”
Though it only started in September of last year, Urban Impact is growing. Fast.
“One Sunday, 69 people showed up and we ran out of chairs,” Brown said. “Nine people had to sit on the floor.”
At their Thanksgiving fellowship, 140 came. When Christmas rolled around a month later, the number grew to 180.
Brown grew up in this area, an economically depressed neighborhood if there ever was one. Drugs, prostitution, alcoholism, poverty are just some of its problems. In the last month, three people have jumped out of the upper story windows of the apartment building. A woman was stabbed in the back by a fellow tenant in the lobby just outside the church’s meeting place.
“I’m a product of the society here,” he said. “We came up hard. Growing up, I thought, ‘if someone would just come down here and care, then things could be different and we could clean this place up.’”
When no one did come, Brown took matters into his own hands. He got out of the neighborhood and started his own successful construction company in suburban Kansas City, succeeding in improving his life, at least by the world’s standards.
“I was climbing a ladder of materialism,” he said. “But I wasn’t happy. It didn’t matter what I accomplished, I wasn’t happy.”
About five years ago, while walking down the street in New Orleans a man handed him a tract.
“I thought I had always believed in God,” Brown said. “But I had never pursued a relationship with Him. I read that tract over and over again – I still have it to this day – and it finally registered with me that if I didn’t have time for God, how could He have time for me? I can’t explain it. God just crashed into my heart and I was sold.”
Fast forward five years and he is the owner of three construction companies and the pastor of an inner-city church more than an hour from his home and his family.
“Reading the Bible, it became very evident to me that evidence of salvation is works,” Brown said. “There’s no salvation through works, but when we say we’re saved, we should be willing to show that. There are probably 100 people more qualified than me. There’s nothing special about me, all I know is I want to pursue God and teach others how to pursue God.”
His latest idea for teaching others to pursue God in his old stomping grounds will definitely turn some heads: Urban Impact’s upcoming poker ministry.
“Poker has become part of our culture. We don’t believe in gambling, but we are going to be able to get unreached people in here by having a free poker tournament. This isn’t their mom’s church. They can just come and be who they are.”
In fact, poker has become one of Brown’s most effective methods of witnessing.
“We talk to those people every week and try to build an authentic relationship with them. When you’re playing poker, inevitably someone is going to ask, ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ and that gives me the opportunity to tell them I pastor a church. I tell them ‘I love Christ and I’m here playing poker. You can too.’”
If the mention of poker made you raise your eyebrows, you might as well go ahead and gasp now about Urban Impact’s worship service itself.
“We use secular music in our worship service,” he said, including likes of Bob Marley, and current hip hop hits. “It’s all about engaging them. We take secular songs and rewrite the lyrics. We took Alicia Keys’s If I Ain’t Got You to If I Ain’t Got You, Jesus. We’re trying to communicate the unchanging truth of the Bible in a new tongue.”
Striking a balance between engaging culture and remaining doctrinally sound can be hard sometimes, Brown said, but it’s the key to reaching Bellerive and its community.
“They don’t find condemnation with us,” he said. “But they don’t find condoning either. If you’re going to genuinely love on people, you’ve got to understand that they’re not where you’re at spiritually. Yet.”
Urban Impact is just one of a series of new church plants in the Kansas City metro area. Church plants are taking root not only in a past-its-prime apartment building like Urban Impact. LifeQuest Church, a thriving contemporary style congregation is fast outgrowing its facilities, a former Harley Davidson dealership. A jazz club in the center of KC jazz scene has expressed interest in opening its doors for a Sunday morning worship service and Bible study. Set Free Church meets downtown and gives the Gospel and hot breakfast to more than 100 homeless every day.
Brown said he thinks it should be like this across Missouri and America.
“The church needs to adapt to the culture that surrounds it, there’s no two ways about it,” he said. “We’ve always been reforming. We used to listen to pipe organs, then we went to pianos and now we’re using guitars. It’s important that we communicate the unchanging truth of the Gospel; you can’t give that up. We’re biblically sound, but engage the culture. It’s tricky to do sometimes, but it’s doable.
“Urban Impact is very reproducible. I would like to raise people up from here and begin looking for spots to plant more. Most apartment buildings have common areas, so you could do this anywhere. You can find at least 15 within a 10-mile radius of this building where it would work. It’s a very doable thing.
Doable, Brown says and necessary.
“There are not enough strong, Bible-teaching churches in our urban areas. We don’t just want a place to get together; we want to teach the Bible. We want to reconcile inner-city Kansas City for Christ.”