Jerry Johnston’s New Day Church shuts down

Jerry Johnston’s New Day Church shuts down
By JUDY L. THOMAS, The Kansas City Star, 10/8/2012, 0riginal
The church that the Rev. Jerry Johnston launched a year ago after losing his Overland Park megachurch to foreclosure has also shut its doors.

New Day Church Kansas City, which opened in September 2011 in an Olathe school, held its last service Sept. 30.

An Olathe School District official confirmed this week that the church had canceled its contract to lease the building on Sundays. The church originally met at Olathe East High School, then moved to Pioneer Trail Middle School.

Johnston could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He and his wife, Cristie, sold their southern Johnson County home and belongings in an estate sale last year and had been commuting from out of town.

The New Day Church website is still online, but the links have been disabled. Johnston’s sermons, which had been available as podcasts on iTunes, have been inactivated as well.

But Johnston apparently isn’t leaving the ministry.

An evangelist before founding First Family Church in 1996, he now appears to be returning to his roots. In recent months, Johnston has been a guest on “100 Huntley Street,” a religious television program in Canada that is described as the country’s longest-running daily talk show.

Broadcast live, “100 Huntley Street” is the flagship program of Crossroads Christian Communications, a nonprofit organization based in Ontario. According to its website, the program “highlights compelling vignettes, stirring testimonies, dynamic points of interest and special reports that speak to Christians of all ages.”

A video on the program’s website dated Aug. 29 discusses a documentary called “The Power of Media” that was recently produced by Johnston and another man. The video explores the influences of media on society, especially teens. As part of his research, Johnston visited a pornography convention and interviewed teens about sex.

On the video, Johnston was introduced as executive director of Crossroads U.S.A. A call to Crossroads Christian Communications for comment was directed to a media spokeswoman, who did not respond.

Last week Jerry and Cristie Johnston (she recently changed the spelling of her name from Christie on her Twitter and Facebook pages) were in Michigan, working on a documentary about teen suicide.

On Oct. 4, Cristie Johnston posted on Twitter that she and her husband were taping interviews with mothers whose children had taken their lives. She included a picture of Jerry Johnston interviewing a woman in Michigan.

The Rev. Chuck Millhuff, a longtime Kansas City area evangelist, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Johnston had another job in the ministry.

“He is definitely an entrepreneur,” Millhuff said. “Actually, I would not have been surprised to hear that Jerry has opened up a ministry on the moon.”

Millhuff, who was a seminary student when he first heard Johnston speak, said Johnston’s new line of work might be a better fit for him.

“That’s how he started out,” Millhuff said. “He is a very gifted speaker. He would be very good at that, and he would have a heart for that.”

Johnston’s First Family Church, once described as among the fasting-growing megachurches in the country, had a rocky history.

In 2007, The Kansas City Star reported that hundreds of members had left over concerns about financial accountability. The newspaper also found that the church was structured in a way that provided little financial oversight.

The Kansas attorney general launched an investigation into the finances of Johnston and his church after receiving complaints about church money. The investigation was later closed because it did not find any activity that violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act, an attorney general spokesman said.

Complaints also were filed with the Internal Revenue Service. In 2008, the IRS attached tax liens to the church property, citing more than $107,000 in unpaid payroll taxes from 2007. The church quickly settled, and the lien was released.

In January 2011, Regions Bank filed a foreclosure petition against First Family in Johnson County District Court, alleging the church owed more than $14 million in mortgage payments and other costs.

A judge ordered the foreclosure, and the church held its final service in September 2011. Johnston then launched New Day Church Kansas City a week later at Olathe East High.

Though several of First Family’s board members were listed as members of the new church’s board when it began, none remained after a few months.

Regions Bank bought back the First Family property at a sheriff’s sale in October 2011, then put it on the market.

In April, the Blue Valley School District purchased the 51-acre complex for $9 million. The district plans to use the property at 143rd Street and U.S. 69 as an early-childhood education center and is working on a proposal to share space with the Blue Valley Recreation Commission. Renovation on the building is expected to cost about $19 million.

Over the past two years the Johnstons and their three children — who at one time were all on the First Family Church payroll — have gone in different directions.

Jerry and Cristie Johnston received their doctor of ministry degrees from Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia in May. In June their son, Jeremy, who was executive pastor of New Day Church, was hired as a lecturer at Acadia. Their older daughter, Danielle, and her husband, Christian, left First Family in 2011 to start a new church in Lee’s Summit. And the Johnstons’ younger daughter, Jenilee, who was a youth ministry director at First Family, left the position in late 2010.