At-risk children central to church plant's Gospel task
Aiming for 'the good of our city'
WICHITA, Kan. (BP) -- They say it on the Web and they aim to live it out, first in Wichita and ultimately throughout the world.
"The vision of City Life Church is to see the gospel transform everything -- ourselves, our church, our city and the world," the church's website states. It begins in Wichita, where more than 600,000 people live in the metro area. "We believe church-planting can reach the darkest corners of our city for Christ. City Life is committed to ... send out gospel-driven, city-focused people to declare and demonstrate the gospel to the people of our city."
At-risk children are a key part of that commitment, with at least 50 City Life members involved in various aspects of outreach to families in crisis; 15 families are either licensed for foster care or in the process of being licensed.
Whether bringing children from troubled families into their homes or mentoring broken families toward healing, church planter Casey Casamento (@ccasamento) acknowledged it's tough and often messy work.
Some parents want little to do with mentoring. Others struggle to make changes that will lead to their children's return.
"We care for their children, but we also share the love of Christ with their families and extended families," Casamento said. Referencing a 19-year-old man whose child was put into the care of a church family, Casamento said both the man and his mother now attend City Life Church.
"Ultimately, we do this for the sake of the Gospel," said Casamento, a Wichita native. "We exist to bring glory to God and for the good of our city."
Casamento started City Life Church in 2011 after 12 years in youth ministry, the last six in Wichita. His involvement in local community groups opened his eyes to the city's physical and spiritual needs.
"I didn't know what that burden meant back then, but I just knew that I had a huge burden for Wichita," Casamento said. "So when I felt led to plant a church, I knew that it was in this city."
Wichita, which has grown by nearly 12 percent since 2000, isn't hostile to the Gospel. But with more than half of the residents uninvolved in any religious group, Casamento sees a high level of spiritual apathy.
"We have to go to them and build relationships with people in the city," he said. "It takes time to reach someone for Christ. They need to trust you and see that you love them."
In planting the church, Casamento developed a core team with weekly vision meetings and Bible studies. City Life now averages between 400 and 500 in attendance and has baptized 100 in two years.
The church now meets in the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Wichita. Casamento believes the iconic location has been a draw for people who wouldn't normally attend church. But the church's main focus isn't where it meets but mobilizing members to become missionaries where they live.
"Our vision is for those in our church to understand that we have the Gospel and now we have a responsibility to carry that Gospel out into our city -- to exemplify the Gospel through good deeds, to be -- as it says in Matthew 6 – 'a city on the hill,'" Casamento said. "But it's also to communicate the Gospel, to know that God is leading us and calling us to present His good news to everyone."
That doesn't mean only Wichita, but also globally. Casamento's goal is to involve every church member in an international missions experience every three years. Last year City Life sent teams to China and Haiti.
Casamento returned from a vision trip last May to explore a partnership with the International Mission Board for an unreached people group in East Asia. North American Mission Board scholarship funds pay up to $1,500 for plane tickets for any Send North America Support Network planter and an additional leader to take such trips.
"As we make disciples and assist others in making disciples around the world, our church will develop a disciple-making culture," Casamento said. "We also come back with new eyes and see our city and our neighbors differently. I think it drastically impacts for the better how we live our lives here."
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. To get involved in church planting in North America, as a planter or a partner, visit namb.net/mobilize-me. City Life Church's website can be accessed here; the Send North America Support Network here; and information for reaching neglected neighbors, communities and children here.