Area ministers say church membership on a recent upswing
The spiritual health of southern Leavenworth County residents is excellent, according to pastors at several area churches.
At Tonganoxie's West Haven Baptist Church, for example, a record number of parishioners attended Sunday school on March 12. A total of 325 people attended church services, while 225 people attended Sunday school, said the Rev. Rick Lamb.
"That's the most in Sunday school in the history of the church," said Lamb, whose church is 32 years old.
About seven years ago, when Lamb arrived at the church, 1000 West St., about 70 people regularly attended services. The church now counts 280 members and another 125 to 150 children among its parishioners.
The budget at the church upon Lamb's arrival was about $80,000. Now, West Haven's budget is about $215,000.
As growth continues, Lamb said, it takes a toll on a church. The dynamics change.
"It starts to get really difficult for the pastor to be really close with everyone," he said.
So the church begins to call on more and more of its members to handle pastoral care and shepherding.
"I think, so far, we're able to maintain it," he said. "But I think it's starting to stretch us. It's right there to me. It's right at the stretching point."
Parishioners at Heartland Community Church of the Nazarene plan to dedicate their new building on April 2.
The church rolls include about 45 members, according to the Rev. Tom Saunders.
From 70 to 75 people regularly attend services at Heartland, which is just southeast of Tonganoxie along U.S. Highway 24-40.
"It's hard to project numbers of growth," Saunders said. "I would imagine in the next year we'll see about 20 percent growth."
It was anticipated growth in the area that prompted formation of the church in September 1995.
"We have a church in McLouth, and we have churches in Lawrence, and we have a church in Bonner Springs," Saunders said. "We have people who have attended those churches from this community. They had planned, and people had given money toward it to launch it."
Services were held at Tonganoxie Junior High School until last November, when the move was made to the new building.
"People have been very receptive," Saunders said. "During this whole time, the school board and the superintendent have been so supportive and helpful to us."
Members of the Tonganoxie Christian Church have watched their church grow during the last two decades.
Ben Saathoff, pastor of the church for 25 years, arrived in Tonganoxie just in time to get in on the ground floor of the church's first building project in which the church moved from Fourth and Shawnee to Washington Street.
Members physically did most of the labor on the building, and within five months the structure was completed. The church held its first service in the new location on Aug. 27, 1978. In 1986, members added on to the building. And once again, in 1993, another wing was added, increasing the building's size to about 17,000 square feet.
Three years ago, the Genesis Christian Academy, a private school, opened in the church. Today, more than 120 students, in preschool through fifth grade, attend the school.
The next major step for the church includes the addition of a two-story wing on the southeast side of the church.
Saathoff credits his parishioners with the reason for the church's growth.
"We have good leadership within the church," he said. "And we try to do the right thing."