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Kansas mega church faces foreclosure

A bank has threatened to take possession of First Family Church in Overland Park if it doesn’t pay more than $14 million in mortgage and other costs.

A foreclosure petition filed in Johnson County District Court last week by Regions Bank asks that the property be foreclosed and if payment is not made that it be sold, with the proceeds applied to the debt.

The mega church, which was described at one time as one of the fastest-growing in the country, came under scrutiny in 2007 after The Kansas City Star reported that hundreds of members had left the church over concerns about financial accountability.

The Rev. Jerry Johnston, founder and senior pastor, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

But the church’s board of elders issued a statement on the First Family website Monday afternoon after The Star asked for a response to the foreclosure petition.

“Your church leadership, pastors, elders, deacons, and ministry leaders have been praying and in a spirit of unity,” the statement said. “We are confident to resolve this situation while all ministries and worship services continue as scheduled on our campus.”

Last year, the statement said, Regions Bank “unexpectedly” called the church’s mortgage, demanding full payment within 30 days — “terms which were financially impossible for the church to comply with.”

The statement said that “this is happening to churches across the country according to the Wall Street Journal, 1/24/11 — another reality of our country’s economic crisis.”

The Wall Street Journal article said that since 2008, banks have foreclosed on nearly 200 religious facilities, up from eight in the previous two years. The newspaper attributed many of the foreclosures to churches that ran into trouble by borrowing money to build larger houses of worship.

The First Family Church statement also said that Regions Bank had recently accelerated the mortgage maturity from 30 years to five years, “forcing this situation even while First Family Church was current in its obligations.”

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