Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches large and small, rural and urban, have altered ministry strategies to fit newfound needs. Rock Hills Church in Manhattan, Kansas, has responded by starting innovative outreaches.
Church planters Troy and Lacey Hartman launched Rock Hills in September 2015 with help from the Church Multiplication Network. Rock Hills, which became a Matching Fund church, had grown to 850 before restrictions related to the coronavirus took effect last year. Now there is an average of 500 at in-person services, and more tune in online.
Gathering in a rented movie theater, Rock Hills is located next to a mobile home park, and is near Kansas State University and Fort Riley, an Army base. In Manhattan, 65 percent of the 55,290 residents claim no religious affiliation.
Because of the transient nature of the college and military populations in Manhattan, more than a third of the Rock Hills congregants are new annually.
“We try to get people connected as fast as we can, growing in their spiritual journey, and then send them off stronger and ready to make a difference wherever they’re sent,” says the 34-year-old Lacey, who serves as executive pastor.
When COVID hit, Rock Hills began delivering food boxes through Farmers to Families, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program for low-income households affected by the pandemic. At least until the grant expires in April, church volunteers will continue to deliver grocery boxes to 500 families every other week.
While many other food programs only offer pickup options, Rock Hills has gone the extra mile to deliver the food. Hartman says working parents, the disabled, and the elderly aren’t always able to drive.
Volunteer Angela M. Stoutenburg says it’s a great way to connect with area families. She says one family that received food boxes recently told her they don’t need groceries anymore because they paid off their mobile home — largely because they received free food through Rock Hills.
Stoutenburg, 35, is a military veteran who did unit supply at Fort Riley before leaving the Army in 2019 to focus on her son, Noah, now 9, and community service. Her husband, Jason, who has been in the Army for 15 years, currently is deployed. Stoutenburg saw a need for counselors after the pandemic hit, and Rock Hills delivered flowers and cards to mental health providers in Manhattan. This year, Stoutenburg plans to partner with faith-based counselors so the church can pay for the first few sessions.
In April, Rock Hills will begin to collect new or lightly used duffle bags for kids in foster care. Stoutenburg noticed many children don’t have suitcases; they go from home to home with their clothes in trash bags.
This summer, the church will partner with and assist Green Apple Bikes, which collects donated bikes, fixes them for free, paints them green, and gives them to the homeless.
Despite decreased attendance, Rock Hills had its highest year of giving in 2020. Last year, the church donated over $100,000 to local and global charities, twice the amount contributed in 2018. The church has a variety of helps ministries, including offering rides to those without vehicles, making home repairs, and delivering furniture to people moving out of shelters.
Stoutenburg recognized a huge need for child care. With many single-parent homes and military families whose spouses are deployed, parents are often exhausted. Stoutenburg started a “day off” ministry in which church volunteers clean homes and watch children so the single parent can take a break.