Old church celebrates new life during anniversary

bbashioum@demo-mo.comSeptember 26, 2013 

Pleasant Ridge Church senior pastor Malachi O’Brien, 30, wants new life to be breathed through his rural Harrisonville congregation.

BETHANY BASHIOUM/DEMOCRAT MISSOURIAN

He’s a man on a mission.

Pleasant Ridge Church senior pastor Malachi O’Brien, 30, wants new life to be breathed through his rural Harrisonville congregation.

The gathering is the second-oldest church in the area with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I want to be at a place where God works and is changing lives,” he says.

The church recently celebrated it’s 145th anniversary on Sept. 15, but the journey hasn’t been easy, O’Brien said.

In the last 145 years, the rural congregation has seen 47 pastors come in and out of their doors.

There have been splits, threats and hurt feelings over the years, but O’Brien, who is in his second year of his ministry at Pleasant Ridge, is kingdom-focused.

“We’re experiencing some of the highest numerical numbers as a church that they’ve had in the last 20 years,” he said. “We’ve seen more people make professions of faith, baptism and joining in the last two years than in the last 15 years combined.”

When he first arrived to Pleasant Ridge from a mega church in Lenexa, Kan. in June 2011, O’Brien reported that weekly attendance averaged about 40 people.

At that time, about 70 percent of his congregation were 60 years and older. The walls were painted a dull white. Hymnals from the 1950s were still scattered throughout the church.

Youth and children ministries were nearly non-existent.

Sunday mornings at Pleasant Ridge were more of a weekly custom rather than a worship experience, O’Brien alluded.

Today, it’s a much different story.

The walls are brightly-painted. The clutter from past decades is gone. The music is a little bit more hipper. And technology is reshaping how the church operates.

“Even the way we govern ourselves has changed,” O’Brien said.

As a result, church attendance in the last two years has tripled and the demographics have shifted, too.

O’Brien now estimates that about 70 percent of his congregation are about 40 years old and younger.

Pleasant Ridge also now offers vibrant nursery, children and youth ministries.

“There’s a big emphasis in the Southern Baptist Convention for church revitalization for new life breathed back into them,” said O’Brien, who is also working on a doctorate in church revitalization.

O’Brien says his church is a community of repenting sinners.

“I tell them that this isn’t a church for everybody,” he said. “This is not a club...We’re an army. This is not a cruise ship...this is a battleship.”

Pleasant Ridge Church was birthed into existence as the United Baptist Church of Jesus Christ at Pleasant Ridge, located at 22500 E. 299th St., in 1868.

During the celebration service earlier this month, several former pastors of the congregation came to share about the church’s history.

More than 150 people attended the service.

“This church has a rich heritage,” O’Brien said.

But O’Brien is mindful that he has to be adaptive to culture in order to lead people into a relationship with God. Sometimes, though, it takes growing pains to get there.

“This was a church designed just to reach farmers around here, and they haven’t really seen the times change around them,” O’Brien said. “The Pleasant Ridge Church wants to see revival. I think this area deserves to have a church on fire and willing to do whatever it takes to reach and love people.”

O’Brien said the church has done everything from change their name to their philosophy to fulfill their goal.

“We’re outwardly focused, not inwardly focused,” he said. “I want people to know what this church is for, not what this church is against.”

As a result, O’Brien said God is working.

“I think this church has great potential to grow to more than 200 people in the next year, but more than numbers, I want to see lives changed,” he said.

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