Hopes, dreams and $6 million may have built Wichita's newest church building on 8000 W. 21st St., but faith has kept a congregation steadily growing for more than six decades, its minister said Sunday.
On Sunday, members of the First Mennonite Brethren Church opened their doors to one of the largest churches in west Wichita.
"It's fantastic," said Buffy Branam, who held the door open Sunday for visitors coming to an open house.
Indeed, the giant white addition has nearly doubled the size of the church, a well-known landmark along 21st Street.
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The addition was a long time coming, said the Rev. Brent Warkentin.
On Sunday, Warkentin proudly showed visitors a sanctuary with stage, two large video screens, sound system and theater seating.
Then, he led them to a commons area with a coffee bar and showed where the former sanctuary was — a multipurpose room that members used for all kinds of things, including playing volleyball.
He also ushered them past newly remodeled classroom and nursery spaces.
"We now have between 65,000 and 70,000 square feet of space," he said.
Warkentin said the church had faced a growing problem in recent years.
The existing spaces had become increasingly crowded, not only in classrooms and hallways but also in the worship area, he said.
"We believe God will use this building," he said.
The church was founded in 1943 when 19 charter members formed the First Mennonite Brethren Church. The congregation's church buildings were located at two other sites in west Wichita before it bought the West 21st property in the mid-1980s. In those days, Warkentin said, the surrounding area was mostly farmland.
The church now has 850 active members who regularly attend services each Sunday.
Warkentin said church members debated a few years ago about whether to build during a recession. They chose to build just as the stock market was crashing.
But they did so on faith, he said, knowing more than half of the money had been raised.
One of the determining factors in building the addition was the need for a new sanctuary, said Gary Allison, chairman of the building committee.
"The members wanted a sacred space," Warkentin said.
Nearly a year and a half ago, construction began on reshaping the parking lot, Allison said. Construction on the addition began a year ago.
"I think it is just fantastic," said Branam, who has been attending the church since 1972. "It was getting to the point we needed to do something."