Mega-progress at a megachurch
Going from a rented room in a hotel to a 2,300-member congregation 15 years later, Kingdom Life Christian Church's story is a study in how a megachurch succeeds.
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"Bishop Ramirez and many church members have been very active in the community and had a significant and positive impact," says Mayor James Richetelli.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet, as other megachurches have found, rapid growth hasn't come without strains. As KLCC buys properties, some in the neighborhood worry about the impact on the city tax base, and about rumored plans to build on land that was supposed to be open space. "Friends go to breakfast every Saturday, and many are concerned about their taxes going up," says Carol Paradis, a long-time resident.
In fact, the city last year bought a vacant commercial property the church was poised to buy, to keep it on the tax rolls. KLCC had planned to build a bigger sanctuary there.
"It's a valuable piece of property, and it would be detrimental to have it go to a nontaxable status," the mayor says. The city has since sold it to a developer.
Ramirez points out that a number of KLCC properties are not tax-exempt. The church pays $50,000 in taxes per year.
All this growth couldn't have happened without organizational skills - a requirement for megachurches. "Bishop Ramirez is gifted in that area," says Mr. Hashem.
The pastor began his career at Eastman Kodak, where he worked in marketing. The desire to help people more led him to emergency medical services, which he headed in Westchester County, N.Y., and Texas. In the process, he found he had media skills as well. All have come in handy here.
Starting with local public-access TV, the telegenic and media-savvy preacher moved on to a weekly radio show with another bishop, and then to regional TV programming - all available on the church's website.
As KLCC grew, he introduced small groups, where 10 to 20 members meet regularly to encourage spiritual growth and support each other. The groups offer an intimate community within large churches, members say, and are vital for developing leaders.
Scott and Joyce Marlow joined KLCC 10 years ago and first served as youth ministers. Then they became home fellowship leaders, and now coordinate the home program covering four geographic districts. They plan and prepare materials for small-group study based on Ramirez's sermons. Mr. Marlow was ordained three years ago, though he has a full-time job as superintendent of a building firm. His wife, Joyce, is serving in a year-long ministerial capacity. For them, the home fellowship experience is key. "When you get the structure right," she says, "then it grows by word of mouth."
Like KLCC, about one-third of megachurches are independent, developing out of a frustration with denominations. While they allow pastors freedom to preach as they see fit, they lack accountability, training, and credentialing. To address those needs, new independent networks and affiliations have developed, some more formal, some less so.
Ramirez started a network for independent churches in Connecticut called K-Net, joining some 30 churches in fellowship and workshops. In recent years, calls came from pastors in Africa and South America who've seen the website. Ramirez visited Ghana and Colombia and brought several hundred churches into K-Net International.
"We have been on our own for a long time, and need guidance," says Pastor Godwin Normanyo of Ghana, here for the international conference and his ordination as a bishop within the network.
"It's like the dry bones rising up - I see God raising a great army united in Spirit," Mrs. Normanyo adds. "K-Net is a spiritual help to encourage and lift us...."