Lucas Presson

Lucas Presson is the assistant publisher of the Southeast Missourian.


Cape First celebrates centennial this weekend

Pastor Gary Brothers preaches at Cape First Church in Cape Girardeau.

How do you grow a church? Not just in weekend service attendance but in overall ministry impact. It's not an easy question. But listening to Pastor Gary Brothers, senior pastor of Cape First Church, you start to get an idea of how one of the area's largest places of worship drives growth and ministry significance.

In advance of their centennial celebration services (9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday), I interviewed Brothers about how the church has grown while staying true to Scripture. A recurring theme: "The message is eternal. But methods have a shelf life."

Cape First just finished a $3.5 million building project, which included the addition of 22,000 square feet to the Silver Springs Road location in Cape Girardeau. There's a gym, day care and more -- all designed to reach more people with the Gospel.

Basement of church on 1202 Sprigg St., late 1930s. One of these pews and four of the folding chairs will be on display this weekend.

The church has four locations: Silver Springs Road location and House of Hope in Cape Girardeau, Cape First-Sikeston and Cape First-Marble Hill. They also have Cape First REMIX -- services designed for college and young adults -- at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Silver Springs location. All campuses combined, the church ministers to about 2,000 people per week. Plus there are online broadcasts and the Discovering Life TV program that reach thousands more.

Brothers pointed to having many ministry "doors" for people to connect. Sunday morning services is one. Events are another. The Impact Men's event held in February brought in 1,100 men to hear from Duck Dynasty's Jase Robertson. The 16th annual Ladies Tea at the Osage Center drew 1,200 women (49 ladies signed cards to say they gave their life to Christ). And they have previously held a Family Day with free food and demolition derby in the Arena Park grandstand.

"We try to develop multiple connection points. Because not everyone is going to connect the same way," he said.

There are numerous classes ranging from intense study of Scripture, to others about breaking the chains of addiction.

At the core of the church is what they call Life Groups, small group gatherings where people "do life together." Brothers referred to them as "life-giving groups."

"For us, you have to grow smaller to grow larger," Brothers said, pointing to Life Groups as vital to the church's growth.

Educating future pastors is another ministry. Cape First partners with Southeastern University to provide the first two years in a school of ministry.

Classroom instruction is delivered online through the university while hands-on ministry experience is gained at Cape First. Students not only have an opportunity to gain experience but can do so in a big way.

Through this program, students finish debt-free and with a two-year degree from an accredited university.

Brothers first started in ministry as a volunteer youth leader when he was 18 years old while working as a coal miner in western Kentucky. But at age 28, he felt called to a life in ministry.

"First time I preached three times in a week was the first week I was a pastor," he said. "And I was working five, six days a week in the coal mines at that time. Because I didn't know you could raise money or ask people for money to help you start. I didn't know anything like that. God calls you to do it, let's go do it."

In three years, the small town fellowship became Kentucky's fifth-largest Assembly of God church. People came from a 30-mile radius, he said.

"I learned through that process we were able to make changes quickly. And we were able to adjust to whatever was needed at the time," he said.

Brothers and his wife, Rose, along with their team (35 full-time employees with the church and 30 with the day care) take the same approach with ministry at Cape First. He called it a safe place to fail and a safe place to succeed.

"We empower people to go out and do it. If they fail, we evaluate it. We learn from it. We correct what we need to, but we put them back in the saddle [to] go again," he said.

There is a continual look at return on investment. What works? What doesn't? What can be done better? That applies whether it's an event, Sunday services or even the platforms of communication. Brothers has written books, but noted millennials' interest in audiobooks. So that's something the church is considering.

"We've got to adjust to that trend," Brothers said.

Ultimately, he said the church's approach is to listen to what God is saying, evaluate what people need and serve.

What's the next 100 years look like for the church? Only God knows. But Brothers believes the church is "on the pinnacle of moving into a whole new level of influence and development."

Cape First's anniversary is a reminder that the local church is not about a building. It's not about style of music or how long a sermon the minister gives. Sure, these things matter. As Pastor Brothers said, methods change to reach people. But the message of the Gospel remains eternal. We're to love God and serve each other, always pointing back to Christ who is the author of our faith.

Lucas Presson is assistant publisher of the Southeast Missourian.