Abundant Life reflects its name
LEE’S SUMMIT – A rose by any other name supposedly smells just as sweet. Abundant Life Baptist Church, by any other name… well, no other name fits the philosophy, attitude and commitment to God of this growing and vibrant church just southeast of Kansas City as “Abundant Life.”
“The name really captures our church,” said Phil Hopper, the congregation’s senior pastor. “It really does capture the life we should have in Christ. Christianity is not dead, boring or lifeless.”
“Jesus said he came to give us a life more abundant,” said Associate Pastor Rick Friesen, referencing John 10:10, the church’s motto. “And it’s catchy,” he added, half joking, half serious. “People see the sign and think, ‘That’s what I want: an abundant life.’”
It’s a fitting attitude in Lee’s Summit, a town that has rapidly grown into the sixth-largest city in Missouri and one of the top five fastest-growing cities in the state. The population jumped from 70,300 to more than 80,000 since 2002. Four in ten of the households in town have children under 18 years old, a demographic that Abundant Life specifically, and successfully, targets. Although the humble staff would never admit it, a standout feature of the church is its children’s ministry.
For Hopper, meeting the needs of children and families is just one of the bridges that connect people to Abundant Life, the church, and eventually the true abundant life through Jesus.
“If you look at the ministry of Jesus, he was meeting needs,” Hopper said. “Paul went into Ephesus and was meeting needs. Meeting people’s physical needs is what builds the bridge to meeting their deeper spiritual needs. We’ve learned that people in Lee’s Summit may not care a lot about God, but they care a lot about their kids. If we can reach the kids, we can reach the family. It’s been a fantastic bridge.”
On any given Sunday, anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the attendance consists of children.
“We try to help the kids learn and retain the Word, through all their senses and through every way of learning,” said Susan Dunham, who heads up the children’s ministry.
And they do hit all the senses to help the message sink in. In addition to children’s church during the main worship time, the Sunday School rotation teaches the children a certain lesson several times and ways through the “Holy Word Theatre” – a miniature movie theater, a drama room, art and computer games to quiz them over what they just learned. But don’t mistake it for entertainment.
“Research says that kids are growing up, leaving church and never coming back,” Hopper said. “We want to approach this in such a way that it’s not just entertaining – they can be entertained a lot of places. We want them to remember what they’ve learned. Hopefully we’ve left a mark that will last a lifetime as they grow up through the church.”
That is echoed by Lance Harrington, who leads the church’s youth ministry. “Our goal is for it to become ‘their’ faith. Not their parents, not mine, theirs.”
Abundant Life began in 1994 as Liberty Baptist Church with 29 people. In 1999, the founding pastor, Randy Shephard, left and Hopper was called to pastor the church. The church relaunched itself in May of 2000, changing its name to Abundant Life, partly because there is a Liberty, Mo., 30 minutes to the north and the two churches kept getting each other’s phone calls. Regardless of the name, the church has steadily grown, whether they were meeting in an old, disused Kingdom Hall or their current 20,000-square foot facility. It joined the Missouri Baptist Convention this year.
For Hopper and the rest of the congregation, it’s been a journey of faith.
“Seven years ago I promised God that if we were going to do this, it would be all or nothing,” he said. “We were going to shoot for the fence. Around here we say that if we can explain it, God didn’t do it. We don’t want to be able to explain it. Jesus said ‘with God all things are possible” so we’re only going to try that which is impossible.
“What separates this church from some other churches I’ve been in is that Western Christianity by and large is a ‘safe’ faith. We only try that which seems to be possible. We only do what comes with a guarantee. Living by faith means going beyond what is certain and trying something bigger than you. When you put your faith in motion for God, He puts his power in motion for you. Most people never see the power of God because they never put themselves in a position to need that power.”
A prime example of provision that can be explained no other way but by God’s might is the church’s building.
“We started out in a former Kingdom Hall that sat 125,” Hopper said, “and that was just four years ago.” Now their main building houses a 600-seat worship center with three services on Sunday morning.
“We had a dream to build a new building but we didn’t have the people, the resources, the money or anything else we needed,” he said. “But look at Joshua and the children of Israel. God parted the Jordan River, but he waited until they stepped out and put their feet in the water. Most churches wait for God to part the water and He’s waiting on them. I think the biblical principle is that God gives the vision first, then comes provision.”