"Church Doesn't Happen Just on Sunday Mornings"
Aquatics. Pottery. Basketball. Bible study. Homework help. Mentoring. After-school care. Mural painting. Zumba. Air hockey. Movie night. Outdoor concerts. Worship.
At first glance most of these activities might seem wholly secular, but Auxiliary Capts. John and Tracy Gantner view the Kroc Center’s myriad programs and opportunities in a different light. “We’re not a Kroc center and a church – it’s all one,” explained Capt. Tracy. “Church doesn’t happen just on Sunday mornings. Every opportunity is an invitation to be there for someone -- to listen to their story and to minister to them.”
The Gantners took the helm of the Kroc during the summer of 2017, and from the start their mission there has been a rallying cry that Capt. John calls, “One Kroc.” “Our goal is to extend the mission of The Salvation Army from one end of the Kroc to the other,” he said. “The bottom line is, if we’re not here for people both inside and outside church walls, we are not living out the full mission of The Salvation Army.”
“One Kroc” invites staff to live out the Gospel in real, concrete ways. This might look like offering someone in need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on; helping a child understand how to own his or her individual actions and manage behavior; or simply providing the opportunity for people of all ages to discover their God-given talents and nurture their mind, body and soul through fitness and arts programs, fun and entertainment and worship, Bible study and other spiritual-development programs.
In the last year the Kroc Center has experienced impressive growth with a double-digit increase in attendance for nearly every program, including Sunday worship service and Women’s Ministries. In February 2018 more than 1,200 visitors participated in WinterFest, an event for community members to experience a hands-on introduction to the Kroc Center’s programming, plus family activities like face painting, crafts and live entertainment. Every Wednesday evening during the summer the outdoor amphitheater fills with families who come for free concerts, movies and activities.
In addition, in the last year more than 70 young people, ages 6-16, have participated in the Kroc’s new Restorative Justice program. Rather than suspending kids for poor behavior, the program helps them understand how their behavior affects others and teaches them critical thinking and decision-making skills. “Research shows a growing number of youths entering the school-to-prison pipeline,” explained Kroc Center Youth Engagement Manager Jill Harman. “This program allows youths to learn from their poor decision-making without a punitive approach.”
Teachers, administrators and parents all report positive outcomes from those students who have participated in the program. “We are working together,” said Capt. Tracy. “We come alongside the kids, and they come alongside us.”
The Kroc Center is a lot of different things to a lot of different people in Omaha. For some it’s a fitness center. For others it’s an after-school program, a church or a place to connect with friends. Spanning all its seemingly disparate elements, however, is one unifying concept encapsulated in the “One Kroc” mission: ministry. “Not everyone who comes to Kroc sits in our Sunday service, but they are part of our ministry nonetheless,” said Capt. John. “Our staff is all doing ministry -- they’re just doing it in different ways.”