Over the past decade the question “if we disappeared, would our community notice?” has become a common refrain among churches seeking to engage their neighborhoods. A megachurch in Witchita, Kansas, has addressed that question with “what if we built the community?”
Central Community Church (CCC) has gained initial approval from the Wichita City Council to develop 60 acres of vacant property near the church. The church plans to build 280 single- and multi-family homes and senior-living apartments, an amphitheater, a special events center/nightclub, a chapel, shops, a soccer field and two ponds. There would also be space designated for future developments that would include a K-12 school.
“It’s very exciting,” Wichita City Council member Bryan Frye said. “I haven’t seen anything like that on the west side. In fact, I haven’t seen anything like it in Wichita. “It’s good to see that acreage developed instead of pushing out to the outer limits.”
When Wichita’s once-rapid growth faltered during the recession, major areas of the town went undeveloped, as the suburbs continued to stretch outward. CCC’s plan would be to help spur growth in the city by transforming these 33 acres.
One part of the plan that has raised eyebrows has been the church’s plan to build a “nightclub” on the property, although CCC pastor Bob Beckler says this designation was required by the city for zoning purposes, and doesn’t reflect the intended use of the facility in question.
“The building in question will be designed to resemble a barn and used for wedding receptions, community fund-raisers, parties and small shows,” Beckler said in an interview with The Wichita Eagle. It’s being designed to work in conjunction with the chapel and an outdoor wedding garden, so couples will be able to have a complete wedding experience on the grounds.
Beckler also emphasized that this property would not be tax-exempt, as it does not exist solely for religious purposes.
“Except for invitation-only events such as weddings, activities in the complex will generally be open to the public,” Beckler said. “The complex is being built without a wall or fence around it so that neighbors will feel welcome to stroll through on the streets and pedestrian paths. Many of the activities will be geared specifically to attract visitors from outside the church community.”
“The question we kind of asked that started all of this,” Beckler said, “is what do we have to do to get the community of Wichita to come across our curbs?”