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Community Immersion Impact

AG church in small Kansas town is widely appreciated for involvement.

When a small-town church goes from 20 attendees to several buildings filled with mid-week family outreach, clearly it is present and active in the community. Pastor Ryan T. Webster of Larned Assembly of God in Kansas says the church is simply obeying, including moving forward with a building project in accordance to the responsiveness.

Webster, 50, grew up in Dodge City. He attended Evangel University to study clinical psychology, but after returning to his hometown, felt called to ministry and became youth pastor at Dodge City First Assembly. In 2003, Webster and his wife, Rachel, transitioned into the lead pastor role at Larned, moving with their 1-year-old daughter, Ruthie.

At first, only around 20 people attended regularly. Webster recalls being unable to afford a gift for his daughter’s birthday, but God provided an unexpected $200 just in time to cover that and other expenses. “That was the day I learned provision,” he says.

The Websters realized that to reach the community, the church needed to be visible and involved. Citing Psalm 78 and Judges 2:10, which speaks of a generation who did not know the Lord or what He had done, they focused on families with school-aged children. The rural community of 3,769 comprises farmers, small-business owners, and employees of the Larned State Hospital and Larned Mental Health Correctional Facility caring for individuals and prisoners with mental illnesses.

Relating to rural and small-town families came naturally for Webster, a Kansas native who enjoys sports and outdoor hobbies such as hunting. He joined the Chamber of Commerce, has served on the chamber and the economic development committee boards, and is the announcer for local high school football games.

Ruthie, now 21, leads worship at the church she attends in Hays, Kansas. Having children in the schools has given opportunities for the Websters to interact at sports and other events; Samuel, 18, is a college freshman, and Elijah, 15, attends Larned High School.

The Websters received training from the AG's Church Multiplication Network and partnered with Rural Compassion for food drives. The church initiated a bus ministry that includes a weekly meal for children and youth.

The ministry outgrew the bus and the church building, and the church now meets in four additional locations. It purchased an unused Baptist church building, where 50-80 children gather for a meal every Wednesday evening. Another edifice, purchased from a Seventh-day Adventist congregation, houses “The Place,” feeding and ministering to between 60 and 100 older youth with the goal of emulating the Early Church as hearers go forth “to “speak the Word boldly.” Intentionality and authenticity are key, as leaders hold monthly girls’ and guys’ nights where students ask any questions they wish of leadership and panel members. “Man Church” meets in a garage, and women’s ministry convenes in a house, which also holds church offices. Another small group focuses on strengthening marriages.

Adjacent to the youth building, the church acquired 13 acres, and in 2017 began a capital campaign for a 20,000-square-foot facility for worship and even more outreach. As the church grew, though, leaders sensed a responsibility to sow more into missions. The Websters’ first full year at Larned, missions giving amounted to $5,000. In 2022, visiting missionaries have received an average Sunday morning offering of $9,000.

Webster believes longevity and continuity are key to being a trusted presence in small-town ministry. Jarred L. Smith, 36, who has served as youth pastor and administrative pastor for nine years, recently transitioned into the associate pastor role; his wife, Madison, has been a local substitute teacher and now serves as youth pastor. Some staff and congregants, including Smith and children’s pastor Rendelle Vagle, are former members of area youth groups led by the Websters.

Larned community leaders in are grateful for the church’s impact.

“They’re really leading in the youth spaces of our community,” says Mayor William Nusser. “They do a great job welcoming all youth, regardless of background.” Nusser also appreciates Larned Assembly’s leadership in a community garden project, including donating the use of land. In addition, the church lets other groups use a giant inflatable purchased for special events.

“Pastor Ryan and Pastor Jarred have always been available when needed, whether it be announcing football games, using their sound system for booster events, being the homecoming DJ, or any other capacity,” says high school principal Dustin Wilson. “We appreciate their willingness to serve over the years.”

“With so many cultural changes in the last several years, our goal is to equip those we reach,” says Webster. “These rural communities need an effective Pentecostal presence.”

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.