Leadership in the former Kansas East and Kansas West conferences had a vision for what they wanted to become in the middle of the last decade. It was 2005 when Bishop Scott J. Jones encouraged the development of strategic plans that called for new church starts, improved camping facilities, campus ministry and a greater emphasis on multicultural ministries.
But the vision couldn’t come into focus without better funding. So the two conferences voted to build the Bridges to the Future program. The two conferences combined to collect about $10.5 million in pledges and, despite the Great Recession, individual United Methodists and churches faithfully contributed more than $8.7 million of the pledged total.
“Bridges to the Future focused the energy and resources of the Kansas East and West conferences on the most crucial issues we faced at that time,” Bishop Jones said. “It provided money and gathered interest in our camps, campus ministries, new church development and Hispanic ministry. The money was crucial for all of these, but it also brought people together to give of their time and expertise in these areas.”
The capital fundraising effort helped fund the beginnings of New Church Lawrence, the rekindling of Living Water United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kansas, and other new UMC congregations – some more successful than others. The Bridges to the Future program also helped fund improvements at camps Chippewa near Ottawa, Horizon near Arkansas City and Lakeside near Scott City.
“When we talked about the importance of camping, people began to send more youth to summer camp and to volunteer as counselors and leaders,” Bishop Jones said. “But all three camps needed significant improvements in facilities as well.”
Campus ministries also benefited, with the purchase of buildings at Kansas State and Washburn universities, as well as renovations at Emporia State, Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State.
Some of the Bridges to the Future money helped secure pastoral leadership via salary support for Hispanic ministries, said Corey Godbey, Hispanic Ministry coordinator. The funds helped the young, mission congregations grow. Godbey said each congregation has made significant strides in discipleship, community outreach and evangelism, stewardship and worship experiences they offer in locations such as Garden City, Wichita, Dodge City and Liberal, among others.
Many of the pledges for Bridges to the Future have been fulfilled. The program started with pledges made late in 2007 and early into 2008. Individuals’ pledges lasted for three years, with churches’ pledges lasting five years. Things started off well, but then the recession hit the Midwest.
“When the Great Recession hit so soon after pledges were made there was significant concern about how the campaign would go,” said the Rev. Gary Beach, Great Plains Conference treasurer and director of administrative services. He served in similar roles in the former Kansas East Conference.
“However, it was surprising how few requests were made to reduce or cancel pledges. But early on the bishop went on record in both conferences encouraging folk to have faith and see how the economy would do. And rather than reduce or cancel pledges to extend a year if needed.”
That meant that most of the payments were concluded in 2014.
One reason for the success of Bridges to the Future was the relatively low expense associated with raising the funds, meaning the vast majority of the money raised went to fund ministries and not administration of a campaign. In fact, the two conferences combined to spend less than $480,000 total while raising the more than $8.7 million.
The success of the Bridges to the Future campaign in Kansas, despite extremely difficult economic times, has created optimism for a similar fundraising effort for Camp Comeca, located near Cozad, Nebraska. The camp boasts amenities such as a lake, a hotel, indoor swimming pool, dining hall, gymnasium, climbing wall and more.
But parts of the camp have fallen into disrepair and require significant investment to ensure its future success. The hope is that the Great Plains Conference will embrace the challenge like the two former Kansas conferences did with the Bridges to the Future program.
“When a conference decides that something is important and when we organize a campaign properly, we can accomplish amazing things,” Bishop Jones said. “It always must be connected to our missional purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”