he pastor of a Platte City church, struggling for years with too-many congregants in a too-small facility, hopes to set new attendance records during Easter services at the planned site of a new, larger facility.
“I hope there won’t be enough chairs for everyone to sit,” Pastor Rusty Savage said of the outdoor services this Sunday, which will double as ground-breaking ceremonies for a planned $8 million facility for First Baptist Church of Platte City.
Church officials will plan for the influx by setting up 600 chairs under an outdoor tent for a 10 a.m. service.
Savage compared the celebration to traditional sunrise service, which usually is held outside, but this service will have a later start time. Church leaders will host the crowds at the new site, which is adjacent to Platte Ridge Park. The grounds are a little more than one mile north of Platte City along Hwy. 371. The open fields, former farmland, are near baseball, softball and soccer fields, all future neighbors of the church’s planned facility.
First Baptist also celebrates a 150-year tradition, dating to pre-Civil War era, when some German immigrants settled the area during the 1850s and 1860s. The church has been wrought with struggles to house an ever-growing number of congregants in a brick building at 214 Ferrel St., the same block which houses the Ben Ferrel Museum, which marks the city’s historic district.
Although the church outgrew the building two decades ago, leaders have tried many methods to cope, including utilizing nearby vacant buildings, some in the area’s historic downtown, for various youth and adult programs.
“We’ve kind of expanded in place as much as we could, then we decided it was time to look for land elsewhere,” he said.
The church has also coped by holding multiple services each Sunday, a drain on the church’s staff, which includes six full-time staff and volunteers, Savage said. Services have been held at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. the past few years, he said.
“You have to replicate and do the same thing multiple times each Sunday and creates a lot of wear and tear on dedicated volunteers,” he said.
The property search ended in 2007, when the church purchased the former site of a 100-acre farm from the owner’s family.
Savage said leaders are pleased they purchased land years before they were ready to build since the price of the land now would far exceed the more-than-a-decade-ago price tag.
He said the surrounding area is expected to grow due to the KCI Airport expansion and expected residential, light industrial and retail building boom.
“We wanted to keep our identity and be close to current members but have a regional draw,” Savage said, summarizing the decision to buy land near the Platte Ridge Park.
In addition, the chosen site is close enough to Interstate 29 to be visible by passersby, increasing not only visibility but hopefully creating a “very inviting” atmosphere, he said. The land sits on a hill, literally a ridge, characterized by a soft breeze that causes nearby trees to react.
“There’s always a nice breeze up there,” Savage said. “It’s just really pleasant.” Savage said the elevation is so high that it’s visible from his home in Platte City.
“It really is the ridge of the Platte River Valley,” he said of the nearby Platte River, which winds around the small city.
Plans for the new building call for a 38,000-square-foot, two-story facility to be constructed of metal. Because the area is rural, new water, sewer and other utilities will need to be upgraded during construction. Savage said leaders hope to be hosting a building dedication by this time next year.
Since the land purchase, the congregation has financially prepared for the eventual new construction by hosting two capital campaigns, which, so far, have netted more than $2 million. Further campaigns will be needed to raise the additional $6 million to build on the land. The approach has led congregants to pray, examine budgets and give.
“We always say, ‘equal sacrifice,’” Savage said of pleas to families to consider giving in relation to their incomes and expenses.
The church’s original building, was torn down in 1969 to make way for a new building, dedicated in 1973, Savage said. But that building eventually proved too small, Savage said, adding that membership has soared from about 100 attendees when he took over as lead pastor in 1991 to a current average attendance of 450 today.
A farm house on the property burned during the 1960s and a barn, located near what will be the church property entrance, is all that remains on the site. The state designated the family farm as a “Century Farm” about 1980, meaning it had been in operation for more than 100 years, said Leah Holdsworth, whose family sold the farm to the church.
The family has documents showing that her great-grandfather, Henry Preston, bought the land in 1884. Holdsworth’s father, James J. (Jimmie Jack) Benner, was born on the property in 1931, also died there in 2003, while helping a cow deliver a calf, she said. The family speculates that he was trampled by the cow.
Although her father died tragically, his three children take solace from the fact he died doing what he loved. “He loved being outside and loved that land,” Holdsworth said of her 71-year-old father who “was as healthy as a 51-year-old. It was kind of like his exercise and his love,” she said.
She remembers seeing old Landmark newspaper articles featuring stories and photos about public picnics being held on the property during the early 1900s. Holdsworth said she and her two siblings were raised on farmland located about three miles north of the family’s original farm property.
Holdsworth, who’s 63 and lives in Kansas City, said the family is thrilled the property will be used as the site of a church, since their father was a faithful, longtime member of nearby New Market Christian Church. She said that she and her brother and their spouses plan to attend the church groundbreaking ceremony Sunday.
“It’s a blessing to our hearts,” she said.