CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Ridgepoint’s church plant prospectus.
In March 1943, 19 charter members organized First MB Church—now Ridgepoint Church—in Wichita, Kansas. Today, the 1,000-member congregation is birthing a church plant, SouthLife Church, in South Wichita.
“Very few churches beyond 15- or 20-years old plant a campus or launch a church out of the mothership,” says Ridgepoint Lead Pastor Brent Warkentin. “It’s kind of like you shouldn’t give birth as an 80-year-old. It’s clear that God has chosen to open our hearts to this.”
Assembling the pieces
Ridgepoint’s church planting history spans decades and is not without setbacks. The congregation planted East Wichita MB Fellowship in 1984, but the church dissolved in 1995. Twelve years ago, a vote to hire a church planter failed to pass, though timing, not the idea of church planting, caused the reluctance, Warkentin says.
A big piece of the planting puzzle came together when, in 2018, a struggling church gave its building to Ridgepoint. The building occupies a corner lot in South Wichita about six miles south of Kellogg Avenue which splits the city in two. According to SouthLife’s church plant prospectus, the South Wichita zip code has 22 churches but three times as many people as in Ridgepoint’s 21-church zip code.
It’s a place church planter Kevin Friedberg knows well.
“It’s not a place I was proud of,” says Friedberg, who grew up in South Wichita. “In (SouthLife’s) neighborhood there’s probably a little more pride. But generally, it’s an outcast place (in Wichita). ‘I don’t want to go south of Kellogg’ is the mentality. When I moved out it’s like, ‘Bye South Wichita, see you never.’”
Friedberg’s conversations with Ridgepoint leaders predated the gifting of the building. As Friedberg wrestled with his call to return to South Wichita, in Thailand, Andy Owen was also discerning next steps.
“God sent us to Thailand for 20 years, and there was a real call for us to come back to the U.S. to try to raise up and equip leaders here to reach their own people,” Owen says. “The U.S. is still the number one missionary sending country in the world. So to reach the world, we need our church here in the U.S. to grow as well.”
In January 2022, four years after receiving the building, Ridgepoint hired Owen, a former Multiply missionary, as pastor of equipping and multiplication to spearhead church planting efforts.
Owen gathered a New Day Prayer Team to meet monthly to discern direction for the facility.
In June 2022, Friedberg began a part-time, church planting residency. He holds a master’s degree in theological studies, and he and his wife, Kendra, have moved with their two children to South Wichita. Friedberg intends to work part-time at Koch Industries while serving at SouthLife.
“There were a lot of times where I didn’t think this was going to happen, and where I wanted to run from God or give up,” he says. “But if God wants to build his church, the gates of hell will not prevail.
Launching a church
Friedberg’s hire as part-time pastor and church planter set in motion a multi-phase process. With Owen providing support and strategic planning, a core team of 30 to 35 people, some from Ridgepoint, began meeting for meals, worship, prayer, teaching and testimonies, first on Wednesday evenings then moving to Sunday evenings.
Phases have included leadership discernment, budgeting, developing a fundraising plan and launch strategy and community outreach. The group participated in prayer walks and distributed flyers prior to SouthLife’s Sunday morning soft launch March 19. The church officially launched Easter Sunday, April 9.
SouthLife is functioning as a hybrid campus/church plant, Owen says, with the goal to be a stand-alone church and off subsidy by 2026. Owen will eventually work himself out of his role and look to start other plants.
A place to receive life
SouthLife is focusing on ministry for kids and young families. South Wichita has one of the lowest median ages in Sedgwick County, and the divorce rate is in the top 10 percent nationwide.
“There’s a lot of divorce and brokenness,” Friedberg says. “What comes with that—(this) is part of my story, too—is uncertainty and lack of rhythm.”
SouthLife is hiring a half-time family ministries director and hopes to launch a kids’ reading program and partner with Multiply to host a summer sports camp. Community outreach has included a family festival, a Trunk or Treat and an ongoing quarterly pet food giveaway
SouthLife’s slogan is to be for South Wichita and sent to the world.
“We believe there are people right here in South Wichita that are going to help the world know who king Jesus is,” Friedberg says. “Our heart is to see people receive life and then to go out.”
For Ridgepoint, the timing for multiplication is right.
“Why did God not bring the puzzle pieces together until a year and three months ago or whatever it’s been?” Warkentin says. “I don’t know, but he’s a whole lot smarter than I am. In his wisdom, (God) chose to anoint Andy and Kevin at this time, in this place, to pull this off.”
Janae Rempel Shafer is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Shafer is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Shafer graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She and her husband, Austin, attend Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kansas.