West Jordan Pastor prioritizes music in worship and in life
Dec 11, 2019 03:11PM
● By Alison Brimley
Pastor Keith Radke leads worship with other musicians at River Community Church. (courtesy of River Community Church)
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
In industry parlance, there’s a term for starting a new church: “church planting.” The westernmost edge of West Jordan, where River Community Church is located, seems an apt place to plant.
Off 5600 West, near the Dannon factory, it’s a place where new housing and commercial developments still stand out against open fields and bare mountains. It might strike passersby as a good place to “plant” something.
Pastor Keith Radke and Angie Radke, his wife, are the planters behind River Community Church. Before starting River last year, Keith was pastoring with a large church in Utah, but he felt the call to do something different. Before that, the Radkes were in North Carolina, where they had planted their first church in 2005.
River was founded in August 2018 and initially met in same building with Jordan Valley Church. Sharing the location required River to meet Sunday evenings. For months, they searched for a venue where they could meet in the morning. They even considered moving their services to a trampoline park before South Mountain Community Church, a Utah church with five locations around the state, reached out. They moved into SMCC’s building in August 2019.
After starting their first Sunday service with more than 160 people, attendance has gone up and down. It can be hard for the Radkes to watch. But more important than a growing congregation, Keith Radke said, is that “God is growing people.”
Keith Radke is eager to emphasize that River is God’s church, not his own. But as a founder and pastor, his own personality and interests are bound to influence the style of “worship”—a word he uses interchangeably with “music.”
Besides being a pastor, Keith Radke is an avid musician and songwriter. He wants music to play a bigger role at River than it currently does. He’d like to see a program to develop new worship music and to become a resource for other churches. He cites Hillsong Church as an example.
“Music will play a greater role as we grow,” he said.
Many people connect with God through music, “oftentimes before they ever connect with a Bible study or another Christian,” he said. Music was a gateway into religion for him, too. He started drum lessons at age 10 and guitar lessons at 12.
“My mom raised me on music and the Bible,” he said. And to this day, those are his “go-to’s.”
But in 2017, Keith Radke got the urge to use his talent for something other than leading worship. He wanted to record an album. He reached out to friends with industry experience, who helped him put together an album of Christmas songs, each in a slightly different style, from folk to Grand Ole Opry. The project was fully funded by Kickstarter contributions.
“We didn’t make any money, but it was all paid for,” he said.
“And his mom was very proud,” Angie Radke added.
He explained, “I have spent a long time in my journey doing music for others. I put a lot of my own musical ambitions on hold. That was my ‘I need to do something because I want to do it.’”
For his last album, Christmas songs were the obvious choice. He didn’t have to worry about copyright. Next time around, he’s ready to record songs he’s written himself.
“I’m mulling around more storytelling songs,” he said. “There’s a little country, a little folk. But I want to tell stories. I want to rephrase my own stories in a way that if you listened to it, you’d go, ‘Oh, I experienced that.’”
He has a collection of such songs in progress, and he plans to lay them down in 2020. This effort will require some heftier Kickstarter contributions, since he hopes to record in Ireland. Friends of his have a studio there and have invited him to record. Crowdfunding would need to help pay for studio time, engineering and, of course, plane tickets.
The Radkes have seven children, all of whom share their father’s musical interest. Their oldest daughter sings alongside her father on Sundays. One son is a drummer and bass player. Another daughter sings and plays ukulele. Another son plays didgeridoo, harmonica, piano, guitar and drums.
“We have all sorts of weird little instruments around the house, and he picks up all of them,” Angie Radke said. Angie herself claims to “play the radio.”
Keith wants anyone in his congregation interested in performance to give it a shot. At the end of his Nov. 3 service, he invited anyone with an interest to contact him. About five people, he reported, took him up on that invitation—no small number considering the size of the congregation was about 60 people. From there, there’s an audition and rehearsal process.
“Teachability is important,” Angie Radke said.
This opportunity to collaborate in music-making is vital to River’s vision of worship.
“My ideal church building would actually be round,” Keith Radke said.
Everyone would sit in a circle with music in the middle, and instead of looking at the front, everybody would be looking at each other, singing together.
“So, it wouldn’t matter if you have a full band, or one person on guitar, or no instruments. Everybody would know we’re in this together.”