What the Lord Giveth, this Church Gives Away
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Christ said it and pastors Ryan and Tristan Franks and the congregation of Journey Church in Brandenburg, Kentucky, not only believe it — they live it.
“The Lord told us, ‘If I give you something, I want you to give it away,” Ryan says. “So, that’s what we do. I honestly don’t know how God makes it work, but month after month the Lord continues to build the Kingdom through Journey Church.”
Ryan explains that when they first arrived in 2016 to lead the small congregation — then about 50 people — the situation was grim . . . some might say impossible. But God had a plan. In the first four years, they were able to receive half a million dollars in renovations, establish a Christian school, pursue partnership with Adult and Teen Challenge to build a recovery center, hire staff, and implement church systems.
As God has blessed Journey Church, the congregation has grown to over 450 on Sunday mornings. The impressive increase takes on an even greater significance when considering Brandenburg is a community of only about 13,000 people.
In 2018, while experiencing growth and investing in improvements in the church, Journey Church committed to a significant project — helping launch a women’s Adult & Teen Challenge Center in the community.
“Since that time, we’ve donated $80,000 to the project,” Ryan explains. “Originally, we were going to partner with Kentucky Adult & Teen Challenge to build a home, but a large house that had been used as a restaurant, came up for sale. It can house 18 women plus three staff, it had a conference room, an industrial kitchen, and a number of other amenities — all turnkey ready.”
Ryan says that since purchasing the building, a campus director has been hired and now they are searching for two live-in residential workers.
“They’re interviewing women right now for those positions,” he says. “As soon as we find the right individuals, they’ll be ready to open the doors to the new center.”
Three years ago, the church, against some heavy opposition, also funded the launch of a private Christian school in Brandenburg. Despite the initial opposition, the elementary school has flourished, has gained favor in the community, and now runs 85 students — again, a considerable number considering the community size.
Then there are the meals. Each week the church partners with Feeding America to provide a meal for 130 families (more than 550 people) at the Brandenburg campus.
And recently, the church held a soft launch on a Monday night for a second campus in Bardstown, Kentucky (about an hour’s drive east of the main campus). The former church had closed in 2022, and the new launch was scheduled in September with 45 people attending. And somewhat stunningly, that small church provides 250 to 350 families (over 1,200 people) a week with groceries.
“We have a volunteer team of 60 people from all over the community who assist us with the meals,” Ryan says. “We still have to raise funds for a lot of this as it’s a weekly expense — approaching 100,000 meals a year — but God is seeing us through as He continues to provide.”
And as Ryan notes, in each one of these ministries, there are multiple opportunities to express God’s love and the gospel message through both word and deed.
Biblical literacy is in sharp decline nationwide. However Tristan Franks, academic dean for Journey Church’s Meade County Christian school, sees the school (which is finalizing the accreditation process) as a grass roots way to be a part of seeing that trend reversed.
“Biblical literacy is absolutely a problem,” Tristan confirms. “But I also lead Journey Kids ministry, and the students here (the school) have a lot more biblical knowledge than the kids who just attend church once a week. They know the location of the books of the Bible (Old or New Testament), the main ideas and themes of the Bible, main characters — things we might call basic Bible knowledge — whereas many of the other kids do not.”
Tristan adds that the increase in biblical literacy frequently impacts entire families as parents help their children study or kids talk about what they learned at school that day. The school also strongly encourages parental involvement with school activities and programs, where again families are often exposed to the Word of God.
“In the world around us, many have gotten away from the family core unit,” Tristan says. “We encourage and work to enable family tribal units, where families — mom, dad, kids — eat dinner together, pray together, read the Bible together, serve together, and are working together as a unit. And we’re seeing that happen as parents are choosing to serve in ministry opportunities in the church, school, and community with their kids.”
In addition to teaching core courses, Tristan says an important goal for the school is to help students not only have knowledge of what the Bible has to say, but to develop a relationship with God and His Word so they also become doers of the Word.
“We have amazing teachers here,” she says. “Students develop a fantastic understanding of God’s Word because our teachers help them understand how the Bible is useful for everyday life. They discuss the different themes and explore how we should act and view things in light of what God’s Word has to say.”
Currently the church is working on plans to invest more into the school by adding a wing for junior high students, with a high school facility to follow in the future.
“We’re a missional school, where kids are actively involved in making a difference in lives of others around the world,” Tristan says. “And God is moving in a great way – kids are experiencing ‘ah-ha’ moments as they come to see God for who He really is, and as their relationship with God grows deeper, we’re seeing families grow more interested in God.”
The Assembly of God church in Bardstown had closed when the Kentucky Ministry Network, Journey Church, and pastors Jonathan and Kathy Watson came together to bring new life to the church.
District officials asked Ryan, as an experienced church planter, to mentor the Watsons as they embarked on a new-to-them journey of church planting/revitalization in January.
“We currently live about an hour away from Bardstown, but we wanted to get to know the community first,” Jonathan says. “So (taking a page from Journey Church), one of the first things we did was start a food pantry.”
From the weekly pantry outreach, the Watsons formed a core group of about 45 people who they now meet with on Monday nights where the Watsons provide a meal, the gospel, and prepare the group to one-day-soon open the church for Sunday morning services. A number from the group also meet with the Watsons on Wednesday nights for Bible study.
The pantry, as mentioned earlier, has been unexpectedly successful.
“When we first started, my goal was to one day provide groceries for 100 families a week — people thought we would never reach that mark,” Jonathan says. “In just a few months (working with Feeding America and donations from local Dollar Generals), we were already feeding 100 families, which has since grown to 200 to as many as 350 families a week!”
This effort, in a community of about 13,000, has not only helped spread the word about (and gained favor for) the new church coming to town — now known as Journey Church – Bardstown — it has brought local churches and others together on a weekly basis. Every week, Jonathan says, volunteers from as many as eight different denominational churches, businesses, and clubs come together to help distribute food through the pantry.
Much like the Frankes and Journey Church in Brandenburg, the Watsons funnel whatever God places into their hands back into ministry.
“Every week we wonder where the money is going to come from, and every week God provides,” Jonathan says. “These past nine months have been a whirlwind experience for us, but we’re humbled and privileged to be a part of it. We give God 100% of the glory and we’re excited to see what God has in store for us in the next nine months!”
It’s of note that when talking about what God has been doing in and through their respective ministries, that the Franks’ and Watsons express a sense of awe and wonder, directing any acknowledgement of (what most would consider remarkable) success back to God and His blessings . . ., yet both couples still express their reliance upon God just to meet their weekly needs.
Perhaps it’s a lesson to be learned?
If the focus is on glorifying God, isn’t that made far easier when He’s being relied upon? What has been taking place in the ministries of both couples seems to indicate that God gives blessings not to grasp tightly, but with the intention that they are to be shared with others for His glory . . . as it really is more blessed to give.