When a woman from a much different church background told Johanna Ellison she had been searching for a new spiritual home, Ellison understood why her search ended at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lexington, Ky.
Although they live in an area where larger, more modern and informal churches are popular, this woman who is now Ellison’s friend came to the small LCMS congregation celebrating its 125th anniversary-and has continued to worship there ever since.
She “was struck by the message-how we focus on the Gospel, on Christ’s Word,” Ellison said of her friend. “It’s such a beautiful, simple message in a very complicated world. It’s such a gift.”
Leap of faith
St. John’s, recipient of the 2017 Fall Leadership Conference Partnership Award, knew they needed better space and more room to share that message. Older members were having difficulty navigating the steps. The preschool, operating in the church basement, was at maximum capacity.
Guided by their strategic planning committee, the congregation took what many call a “leap of faith.”
They launched an ambitious construction makeover, to build a new sanctuary, education wing and fellowship hall, doubling worship space and enabling their preschool to better serve more families. A major construction project requires major financing. Ellison trusted that God would guide them, but she couldn’t help wondering “how a congregation our size could do such a project?”
Throughout multiple visits with St. John’s that began in 2013, LCEF’s Steve Strauch-at that time district vice president of the Indiana District, which includes north central Kentucky-connected the congregation with tools to help answer that question.
No hard sell
With the help of LCEF’s Capital Funding Services (CFS), St. John’s introduced “Building on Our Faith,” their three-year campaign to raise $2.4 million-their “miracle goal”-to make their ministry vision a reality.
Larry Detjen, St. John’s building committee chairman, appreciated how CFS’s Rev. Tom Ahlersmeyer led the congregation through the campaign launch with a biblically based approach and “no hard sell.”
Congregants turned to LCEF for a $4.2 million construction loan – financial support that St. John’s Rev. James Bettermann says would likely have been impossible with a commercial lender.
“This project was probably way too big for a congregation our size,” Bettermann said. “LCEF understands that the spiritual journey ministries like ours are on are not about bricks and mortar.”
Affordable cost, Christian hearts
LCEF’s Architectural Advisory Committee (AAC) and Laborers For Christ (LFC) also helped make this project possible.
Before building even began, Detjen asked the AAC’s Greg Beste to review their plans. Beste is a professional architect and member of Island Lutheran Church in Hilton Head, S.C., which St. John’s is using as a model for their new facility.
Participating in the LFC program ensured quality work and affordable costs plus a bonus: Christian hearts.
“They are such neat people!” Ellison said of laborers, whose contributions extend beyond the construction site, including singing in the choir and volunteering at the preschool. “If we were working with a bank, that kind of support would never happen!”
“What a blessing to work hand in hand with such a faithful congregation that shares our mission to share Christ,” Strauch said.
“Our Lutheran message of faith, especially when it’s delivered by our LCMS pastors like Pastor Bettermann, is so truthful and really resonates with people,” Ellison said.
And with their “nice, new space,” Detjen expects “people are going to want to come and check us out”-and hear what that message is all about.
The Fall Leadership Conference Partnership Award goes to churches who have elevated their relationship with LCEF-seeing us as a true partner who can walk alongside their ministry.
Learn more about the LCEF puzzle — www.lcef.org/connected