I am writing this note in the Atlanta airport on our way back home from NewSong Fellowship Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Most people know that Lancaster is the center of a large Amish community. However, we didn't see a single horse and buggy. I learned that Lancaster County is home to over 600,000 people. That surprised me. The Amish number around 20,000, and almost never come into town in their buggies. Instead, they ride in speical taxis driven by one of the "English," their name for the non-Amish majority. At lunch yesterday we met the chairman of the NewSong Board of Elders who happens to be the baby doctor to the Amish. He said that in 27 years of practice, he has delivered over 5500 Amish babies, most of them in the homes of the Amish. But he hasn't delivered all the babies, inasmuch as the average Amish family has eight children. He said he heard someone commenting that another family had decided to stop at "only" five children. He offered to take me on a tour of the Amish community and show me around. I hope to take him on that offer when we are back in Lancaster in three weeks.
Meanwhile, just this quick word about how I ended up speaking for the 8th anniversary of NewSong Fellowship Church. In the 1980s Jamie Mitchell met Mark Edwards when they both were students at Moody Graduate School in Chicago. In 1991 when he served on the staff of a large church in the New York area, Jamie brought his youth group to Chicago for a Son Life seminar. At Mark's invitation, he attended Calvary with his students. Years later, when he founded NewSong Fellowship Church, he and Mark stayed in touch. And when they needed a speaker for their anniversary celebration, he invited me to come.
The church is remarkable in several respects. First, in only eight years they have grown from a handful to over 600. Second, they are growing steadily despite having a landlocked location, in a neighborhood that is somewhat off the beaten tracks. Unlike other new churches, they aren't near any major freeways or major roads. You would never find NewSong by accident.
Yet hundreds of people come every Sunday. Part of it is simply Jamie. When God chooses his leaders, he doesn't cut them all from the same mold. Jamie is taller than I am and bigger, and he seems very comfortable in his own skin. You can't miss the fact that he loves his people and they love him in return. He never met a stranger, and he comes across as a regular guy that you'd like to watch a football game with. Another part of the church's success owes to its unusual combination of contemporary worship, small group ministry, and very strong Bible exposition from the pulpit. This is not a seeker-driven church or a purpose-driven church and it is certainly not an emerging church although they draw from all those sources. It's more like a hip, contemporary Bible church with a down-home feel, sort of a cross between New York and Mayberry.
I commented to Marlene this was the most pastor-led service I have attended since watching Erwin Lutzer lead the service at Moody Church in Chicago. Jamie's gregarious personality sets the tone for everything else. I should also mention that he teaches at nearby Lancaster Bible College, and that keeps him in touch with current trends. So far they've already planted NewSong West. He hopes to plant at least three more churches soon, each averaging around 600 people. Rather than building a megachurch, he wants a network of five churches large enough for a broad range of ministries but small enough so that people don't feel lost in the crowd.
Jess Moody remarked that people choose a church with their noses. They can smell the joy. You could smell the joy everywhere yesterday. Here is a church with a strong pastor, a clear vision (note their Core Values at the bottom of this page, united leadership, community focus, and a congregation that feels like an extended family. No wonder they are growing. Who wouldn't want to be part of a church like that? (If you read the NewSong Story, you wil discover that NewSong was born out of a very painful experience at another church. But since they were hungry and not angry, God has blessed them abundantly.)
By the way, the church recently purchased a home next to their parking lot, and after an extreme makeover, transformed it into a classrooms, a counseling center and a board room on the bottom floor, with a very nice guest suite on the second floor. We stayed there and found it both comfortable and convenient. Three weeks ago I stayed in a similar guest apartment at Faith Bible Church in Vineland, NJ. It's a great idea that more churches should adopt.
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