In the Right Spot
LENEXA, Kansas — In retrospect, Matt Purkey is grateful he went through his wilderness period.
After working on staff at Lenexa Christian Center where his father, Mike, served as senior pastor, Purkey in 2007 felt the Lord telling him to start a church in the same city. With his dad’s blessing, Purkey embarked on the new venture. Around 110 people from Lenexa Christian Center joined him to start North Point Church in an existing facility that needed renovating.
Mike Purkey had mentored his son, a Central Bible College graduate, yet realized Matt wanted to strike out on his own.
However, within a nine-month span, a pair of North Point board members resigned and the five top givers to the church either moved away or stopped attending. Matt went through a bout of depression. He no longer wanted to talk to people on the telephone, for fear they would tell him they were leaving the church, too.
The messy process challenged Purkey’s word of faith theology that he had adhered to as a young preacher.
“I was very much into applause,” Purkey says. “I had a disease to please people. If I had been a thunderous success, I never would have heard God’s whispering leading. I had to learn a dependence on Jesus.”
Five years into the church plant, Matt pulled the plug. Assets from sale of the North point property reverted to Lenexa Christian Center, which used many of the funds to bless missionaries. Matt returned to the Lenexa Christian Center staff. While Mike has been senior pastor, Matt has served as lead pastor the past two years.
Mike Purkey became pastor of Lenexa Christian Center in 1985, when the church had 75 regular attendees. This month, Mike, 64 and dealing with diabetes, became pastor emeritus.
The church moved to its current site in 1988, purchasing 14 acres originally and another seven later. Initially surrounded only by unkempt fields, the 160,000-square-foot church now is in a booming building zone. The church has quick access to businesses build along Interstate 435 and is virtually across the street from a new civic center and aquatic center under construction.
The fast-talking Matt calls himself on “old” 40. In sermons he uses terms such as redemption, sanctification, and Holy Ghost that are unfamiliar to most younger attendees.
The church offers a mixture of old and new. The AG’s 16 Fundamental Truths adopted a century ago are listed on the church website; worship is led by 2007 American Idol finalist Phil Stacey. Along with modern praise choruses, congregants sing a mixture of hymns such as “I Surrender All” and “How Great Thou Art.”
“My desire is to be modern in my efforts, but ancient in my beliefs,” Matt says. “While we don’t need all the fog and lights to reach people, it doesn’t hurt.”
The importance of the Holy Spirit is evident in services, ranging from congregants speaking in and interpreting tongues to offering words of knowledge.
“Everyone is glad to have God and Jesus, but the Bible says we remove our daily dose of power if we leave out the Holy Spirit,” Purkey says. “In a family of three, you don’t ask the Third Person to step out on the balcony.”
In a suburb that is 85 percent white, the church now has an average of 1,800 ethnically diverse, multigenerational attendees. Matt has hired nonwhite staff to better reflect the congregational makeup.
The diversity evident in the congregation proved to be a draw for Sean Bledsoe, who started attending the church four years ago.
“There is outreach to everyone,” says Bledsoe, an African-American who makes a 30-minute drive to the church every Sunday with his wife and five children from Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “I never felt like I was in a different corner from other people.”
Now as usher coordinator for the church, the 45-year-old Bledsoe sees new visitors every week. He credits Youth Pastor Cody Laymon with spurring young people to invite not only their peers but also their parents to church.
“Being a part of Lenexa Christian Center has affected everybody in my family in a tremendously positive way,” says Bledsoe, a former college basketball coach who in 2014 started his own company, VC Medical.
The emphasis on missions that Mike started has continued under Matt. Lenexa Christian Center has given over $9 million to missionaries in the past three decades. Since 1996, the church has supported more than 100 missionaries on a monthly basis.
For the past eight years, Lenexa has sponsored a benefit for missionary kids who are attending Evangel University. This December will be no different. After being treated to a scrumptious dinner, 50 MKs will leave with at least $400 in cash or gifts.
“I have a lot of confidence in Matt,” Mike Purkey says. “He’s put together a great team.”