The church services at New Life Community Church, 17935 Moonlight Road, aren’t designed for the people who attend.
“We design our services for the people who aren’t here and might show up,” New Life Pastor Rick George said.
With his tattoos and motorcycle, George doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill pastor, and services at the church he lives aren’t traditional either. The Sunday following Easter, the prelude to the sermon included a rendition of a “Sky Full of Stars,” a hit song by pop group Coldplay accompanied by a light show that would rival a Sprint Center concert. Though the tune has spiritual themes, it isn’t a Christian song.
George describes the church’s worship service as “non-traditional, contemporary Christian.
“That’s what sets us apart is our style of worship,” he said.
More than 800 people attend the church’s weekly services, and George said more than 1,000 attended Easter weekend.
It’s a far cry from the church as it existed when George was first hired. He recalled pulling up to the church, which sat at the end of a gravel lot. There was a drainage pond behind where the current building now sits, and parking was down a gravel path lined with weeds. In 2000, it was named, “Blessed Hope Church.” It boasted a membership of about 20 people.
“I drove out and looked at it, and it wasn’t very inviting,” George said. “There was nothing that really said this is a great place. But I felt like after I pulled in and sat in the parking lot, I felt like God said this is where He wanted me.”
George was in his mid-30s finishing up a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies at Calvary Baptist College, she he interviewed for the pastor job in Gardner.
Though there was no salary available for the position, George decided he would move his family from Lenexa to Gardner — under certain conditions.
He told the church’s search committee that he wasn’t interested in leading the church as it currently was.
“Basically, we would start all over and begin fresh with new vision, new purpose and new leadership,” George said. “Everything was going to change.”
The search team prayed and considered for more than six weeks, before agreeing to hire George. That was in November 2000.
The following month George sold his house in Lenexa and he, his wife and three children moved to Gardner.
“I got paid whatever was left from the offering after the bills were paid,” George said.
A top priority for George and the church was to get involved in the community. His first week, the church started organizing services at Vintage Park, an assisted living facility in Gardner.
“We’ve been serving every December at Vintage Park since then,” he said.
Other months, the church offers services at Meadowbrook Rehabilitation Center and Medical Lodge.
“Those were a few places where we felt like as a church we could serve in a way that was really about serving and being a part of people’s lives here in the community,” George said.
Serving beyond the church’s walls is part of New Life’s mission. Its motto is “Love God, Love People, Nothing else really matters.”
And specifically, George said the church hopes to reach the unchurched.
George didn’t grow up in a Christian home. His family started attending when his older sister was looking for a pastor to perform her wedding. George was in junior high at the time.
Some of his friends were in trouble at the time. One of his best friends shot and killed another of his best friends.
“It was a traumatic time,” he said.
A third friend was busted with drugs in his locker. With his friend forced to attend youth group because of the trouble, George agreed to attend with him.
“He convinced me to go with him, and so when I went to the youth group, there was something that kept drawing me back to that youth group,” George said.
After several months of attending church and youth group, he decided he wanted his life to be different.
“When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior in high school, from that moment on, I always knew that there was more than just going to church and that I would never be able to just sit in church and not be involved,” George said.
He met his wife in that same youth group, and when they married years later, the would continue to attend church. He worked in the food distribution industry and began raising his children.
“For that first 15 years of married life, I was very active in church without being the pastor,” he said.
He was eventually given the opportunity to become an associate pastor, and then he went back to school to obtain his degree.
His goal in the Gardner church was always to make the church a real part of the community.
“We’ve always wanted to serve and be active and partner with other churches in the community,” George said.
He was assisted by local pastors, Ken Porter, the former pastor at the First Baptist Church and Don Flack, the former pastor at Grace Baptist Church.
“They were very supportive of me and the ministry as well as being people that I could learn from and ask questions,” George recalls.
New Life isn’t a Baptist Church, it’s non-denominational. And while it is evangelical in nature — the church is seeking baby Christians and the unchurched — George said his sermons are filled with Biblical scripture.
Ideally, George said about one-third of members would be spiritually mature, or solid believers who have been believers for decades, and about one-third baby Christians, or those who are somewhat new in their walk with Christ. The final third of the church would be people who are clueless spiritually, or the unchurched, George explained.
“They’re like, hey, somebody just invited me to church,” he said.
He hopes his sermons speak to everyone. For example, the church has recently started a brand new series of sermons called “50 Shades of They.”
“It’s a relationship series about determining who are the ‘they’ in your life,” George said… “Who are the people that are influencing you and are they good influences or bad influences?”
The congregation will hear a sermon based on 2 Corinthians 6:14: Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
“It’s really hard to water that down,” George said. “This is a challenging message to say you need to look at the people in your life and here are people you need to invite into your life as positive influences, and there are some people you probably need to invite out of your life because they are influencing you in a negative way.”
A goal of every sermon, George said, is to challenge his congregation to connect, grow and serve. In addition to providing services at nursing facilities, George said the church is also active in other ways. For example, during football season, the church hosts middle school and high school students after Gardner Edgerton High School home football games. Called “Fifth Quarter” the event provides games, food and entertainment for pre-teens and teens the church.
The church also hosts bike life, a weekend in which parishioners are encouraged to ride their motorcycles to church and participate afterwards in a 100-mile fun ride.
“Everyone is encouraged to ride their motorcycles to church, and we park them inside the sanctuary and every where we can,” George said.
The outreach is working. With an average attendance of more than 800 each weekend, George said the church is now considering expansion. That may mean building an addition at the existing church, or building a new church entirely.
New Life Community Church is much bigger than George dreamed it would be.
“That has nothing to do with me,” he said. “I’m not a great pastor, leader or theologian. The gospel has just gone and people have taken it, applied it, lived it. Lives have been transformed. That’s a cool thing.”
New Life Community Church worship services are at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sundays and at 6 p.m. on Saturdays. The church has a website at www.newlifegardner.com and a Facebook page.