“We shouldn’t be here,” said Ryan Pelton, church planter and lead pastor, about New City Church in Kansas City, Mo. “We’re not in ‘Reformed country. . . .’ This is an urban neighborhood. Traditional churches aren’t supposed to do well here.”
Despite these odds, New City Church is thriving, gathering a wide variety of people representing different generations, backgrounds, and ethnicities in to its services. Pelton has a simple explanation for the church’s success—they are answering God’s call.
“We’re loving our neighbors and fighting injustice and doing the things God has called us to do,” Pelton said.
Pelton’s Calling to Ministry
Pelton didn’t know much about Kansas City before moving there—“I didn’t even know where I could find it on a map,” he admitted.
Pelton grew up in southern California in what he calls a “non-Christian, anti-Christian” environment. His questions about life eventually brought him to accepting Christ in late high school. His attraction to a specific girl, brought him to a Christian Reformed Church in Artesia, Calif.
“The girl I was interested in invited me, and her dad happened to be the pastor,” Pelton said, referring to his wife, Christy, and her father, Andy Vanden Akker. “That was terrifying and exciting!” he said
As a new Christian, Pelton said, he was excited to share the gospel with others. “The first thing I wanted when I became a Christian was for everyone I knew to know Jesus too,” he said.
At times when he didn’t have an evangelistic outlet, Pelton said he found himself frustrated and wrestling with God’s call in his life. As Pelton grew in his faith, others began to encourage him to explore his calling further. He enrolled in seminary. After learning, growing, and serving at churches in Holland, Mich., and Colorado Springs, Colo., Pelton knew God was calling him to plant a church.
Meanwhile in metro Kansas City
As God was preparing Pelton for Kansas City, He was also preparing Kansas City for another church. This took place partly through through Kevin Schutte, who is now Home Missions leader for Starting and Strengthening churches.
To say Schutte loves Kansas City would be an understatement; he’s crazy about it. He loves the Royals and the Chiefs, the city’s renowned barbecue, and most of all, the people that make up the city.
Schutte planted Pathway Community Church in 2005, in the Olathe part of the Kansas City metro area. His church depended on guidance, encouragement, and financial support from Home Missions. Schutte knows firsthand that deep roots in a city aren’t enough—a new church needs partnership and support.
“Before I knew it, ministry was just me being the wizard behind the curtain,” said Schutte. “I longed for somebody to pull that curtain back and say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to do it all.’”
With his own experiences in mind, Schutte began sharing his passion for ministry in Kansas City with Pelton, discussing his vision to see more churches planted there and helping Pelton learn and grow in his church planting knowledge.
Networks of Support
In the summer of 2009, Ryan and Christy Pelton packed up their home and headed to Kansas City to plant New City Church with the help of Home Missions and Pathway Community Church.
They began hosting backyard barbeques, parties, informational meetings, Bible studies, and prayer meetings—talking with anyone who would listen to gather a core of people for a new church in the city.
As the church plant was underway, Pelton felt the love of churches hundreds of miles away throughout Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.
“Church planting can be lonely, but here I’ve never been lonely,” said Pelton. “Kevin Schutte, Pathway Community Church, Classis Heartland—they were all there when we needed help.”
Pelton also received advice, support, money, Bibles, children’s ministry materials, and volunteer time from church partners in the Act 29 Network, a coalition of church-planting churches. He said that all this support was crucial to him in the early days of this new ministry.
He also felt that it was a two-way street. As established churches provided him with advice and financial support, New City Church was able to help established churches think through their own missions and explore their own calls to evangelism.
After gathering people for about a year, New City launched their first public worship service in September 2010. Because they had started with loving their neighbors, New City church was able to attract many people from a variety of backgrounds and help them feel like they belonged.
One of these neighbors was a man named Rob (name changed). Rob was feeling discouraged and lost. He had a good job, but a lifetime of “chasing the American dream on hyperdrive” had left him feeling alone. He was an addict with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Rob’s family life suffered and his struggle with loneliness and addiction landed him in a deep depression.
Then Rob met a member of New City church who invited him to come to a service.
Though he was not a believer, Rob was curious—intrigued by this community of people who professed to be a family, who served each other, and who preached with words and deeds. As he got connected to New City and other area churches, Rob gave his life to Christ.
New City Church encourages people to meet in small groups called “City Groups.” These small groups allow people to connect with each other and with God in a more personal way than simply attending Sunday services. More than 85 percent of the congregation is involved in these City Groups.
Through his City Group involvement, Rob has come to understand that he is part of something bigger than himself. He said that he knows his faith is bigger than just getting “saved.” It was the impetus he needed to get his life back on track.
Today, Rob is a devoted husband and father, raising his kids in the Lord. To his church family, he’s a servant, the first one to sign up or lend a hand.
“He’s good at everything, and now he’s using his talents for the Lord,” said Pelton.
From Individuals to Entire Communities
Church planting is about transforming individual lives such as Rob’s, but it is also about transforming entire communities.
“Churches are good for society,” explained Pelton. “The reality is when you’re gathering a group of people [in a church], they begin to love their neighbors.”
That’s just what happened with New City. God blessed New City Church with attendees who believe that “every square inch” of their city belongs to God and can be part of their mission work.
“[A lot of Christians] are always focused on how many people got saved this year, but I don’t think that’s the right question,” said Pelton. Instead, he suggested that churches should be asking what kind of impact they are having in their communities. The investment in New City Church is one that he believes will last for generations.
How You Can Pray
We asked pastor Ryan Pelton how you can pray for him and New City Church. Please remember this church plant and the more than 40 others Home Missions partners with throughout North America.
- Pray that New City Church and church plants like it continue to work hard to tell the good news of the gospel in word and deed.
- Praise God for the celebrations along the way—for people like Rob who dive in to their faith, for blessings of space to worship and for encouragement and support during tough times.
- Pray for humility, prayerfulness, and faithfulness for the people who are members of new churches. Pray that they will be blessed as they disciple new believers.
- Pray for the Christian Reformed Church’s current and future church planters to be attentive to God’s call in their lives and in their neighborhoods.