Have you heard the one about the preacher who walked into a
A glossy mailer asks the question — not the usual come-on from a church looking for new members.
The promotion belongs to United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, and so does the
bar church. Church of the Resurrection has arrived in downtown Kansas City and taken over a space that previously housed the cavernous nightspot Crosstown Station. A house of worship that looks more like an event space than a status quo church is no joke, though. Consider the ambitious trajectory that Church of the Resurrection has traced in its 22 years.
Membership has ballooned from four people (meeting in a makeshift church in south Kansas City) to 18,000 members, counting its Leawood home base and three KC metro branches. And that's not counting sermons delivered electronically to pews in Arkansas, Maryland and Texas, as well as anywhere with an Internet connection.
In a city where "megachurch" has sometimes been a dirty word, Church of the Resurrection is becoming one of the nation's most influential churches.
The success paved the way for the church's latest target: downtown Kansas City. Resurrection Downtown moved into 1522 McGee in late 2011, after the church bought the building for $1.4 million.
The keys to building on this Christian dynasty are seemingly straightforward: Target the ripe market of people disenchanted with traditional church. Don't push the product too hard at first. Zero in on bringing people together. Then, pull God out of the background to focus on, in the words of Resurrection Downtown's slogan, "Building community, changing lives."
Resurrection Downtown's soft-peddled approach worked on Kate O'Neill Rauber.
Rauber was raised Catholic but strayed from the faith as she entered adulthood. She longed for a place to celebrate Christianity, but it had to be a church that wouldn't force Scripture, wouldn't tell her what she couldn't do, wouldn't tell her what she needed to do. She struggled to find such a place, a church whose message she actually believed.
About 600 people (almost half of them are members) now attend the downtown branch's services each weekend. Resurrection Downtown's swelling ranks made the place a tough sell for Rauber when she first went there two years ago when it met in the Grand Avenue Temple. The church emphasizes smaller groups that mix religion with secular subjects like art. Everyday subjects — marriage is a big one — also drive these subsets. But at first, that didn't sway Rauber, either.
"I am not a stereotypical joiner," she says. "I hate forced fun and forced teamwork."
But Rauber, who works in public relations, decided to start a church group for professional women. She had what she says were enlightening conversations about religion and she connected with people on other levels. It was a fulfilling experience that strengthened her faith — but it still didn't convince her.
Last year, she fainted in church and was rushed to the hospital. When she awoke, her husband was there. So were several members of her church group.
"It wasn't artificial," she says. "It was genuine caring. Right then, I was sold.
"All these churches will tell you that you can't do this or that. Rez Downtown says you can," she says, using members' usual shorthand for the downtown branch's name.
Today, she's active with the church. She doesn't consider herself Methodist, but she says that's OK with the Rez.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton had people like Rauber in mind when he started Church of the Resurrection in 1990, at age 25. The church — referred to most often as COR (say core) in Johnson County — set out to, as its website says and as its leaders tell you when you talk to them, "Build a Christian community where nonreligious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians."