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THE CHURCH I DREAM OF...

Posted by Steve Benninger

PURSUING GOD Together in Prayer and Worship 

I DREAM of a church full of people who are Pursuing God together so passionately that it blows me away. It seems like every week I hear of two or three new prayer meetings that have arisen spontaneously from within the Body. One day walking through the church I stumble upon yet another such gathering. My heart leaps as I see the mix of New Lifers from different races and even different generations gathered together, on their faces crying out to God, pleading with Him to come and refresh His people, to stretch out His hand to heal and perform miraculous wonders.

When I’m out and about in town I’m thrilled to find that every time I enter a coffee shop or restaurant I can look around the room and see two, three, sometimes four different tables occupied by New Lifers, New Life journals, and Bibles open, sharing discoveries from God’s Word with each other amidst laughter, smiles, and sometimes tears. People I’ve never met come up to me and excitedly tell me that their life has been turned upside down because of God.

When I probe more deeply their story is always the same—they have friends who attend New Life who have such a dynamic relationship with Christ that they couldn’t help but be drawn to them and just had to ask what it is that makes them different. I keep hearing story after story of people young and old finding God, surrendering to Christ, and starting their journey with Him.

On weekends I come early with greater anticipation than ever to gather with the Body for worship. The lobby is abuzz with conversation and activity and I enter our auditorium to find hundreds of worshippers already present, some on their knees, others gathered at the front, arms outstretched, others huddled in little prayer enclaves all over the room. There is that unmistakable hum of corporate prayer that I’ll never grow tired of hearing. The atmosphere is thick with the presence of God, supercharged and crackling with spiritual electricity, and I wonder how any newcomer could come and not immediately cry out to God to save them.

As I scan the congregation I am struck by the radiant faces of God’s people, singing to their Savior at the top of their lungs, totally oblivious to those around them, hands outstretched in unabashed gratefulness and love for the One Who rescued them from sin. The front rows are jammed with on-fire students and sold-out young adults who lock arms during worship, sway to the music, and nod and give each other that look that says, “We’re gonna be doing this forever together.”

I glance around and see middle-aged and even seasoned saints gazing heavenward, tears streaming down their faces as they allow themselves to be completely overwhelmed by God’s goodness. Someone behind me leans forward and whispers, “Just being here with God’s people makes me feel so ALIVE!  My heart is so full I feel like I’m going to burst!” I too feel fully alive. My mind is clear; my senses and emotions are fully awakened. The Word of God is spoken. 

People respond to it instinctively, immediately, passionately, obediently. The room is simply pulsating with the life of God. Even an hour after the service is over, people don’t seem to want to leave. Hundreds of them are still talking quietly, praying together, hugging, sharing their lives together in God. I don’t want to leave either. I thank God once again for letting me be a part of this body that is intent on pursuing God from the depths of our being.

CONNECTING WITH EACH OTHER in a New Life Small Group 

I DREAM of a church full of people who are so committed to doing life together in community that absolutely everyone is Connected to a Small Group. No one is living as an island. And it’s not just the adults. Even our children and teenagers embrace this value deeply and are actively recruiting their school friends to join them for small group. I can’t have even a single conversation with someone young or old who doesn’t immediately start gushing about the group they are a part of. It seems like literally EVERYONE is connected with a group that they absolutely love.

I regularly hear of new people being drawn in as they discover the joy of authentic community for the first time. New Lifers often accost me and other pastors in the lobby to tell us about the latest breakthroughs they are seeing in their small group. Their eyes sparkle as they relate the story of yet another person whose skepticism and spiritual hardness is melting under the flame of God’s love coming from their group.

It has become commonplace to see people totally transformed through experiencing real community as walls of fear come down, masks come off, and they see true transparency in their leaders and group members who genuinely love each other. It disarms even the most cynical doubter. A dozen different people every week tell me how much they love their group and consider them family.

I hear of small group members vacationing together, serving in ministry together, and reaching out together to love their unsaved friends to Jesus. I’m stunned to realize that there are now people being saved and added to the church EVERY DAY as a result of the relentless, persistent, love of small group members for their lost friends.

One guy I’d never met before came up to me with a big grin and told me he’d been recently ambushed by Jesus through the overwhelming love of a small group at New Life who loved him until he finally asked why, and his life was forever changed. Many weekend Celebrations are now capped off with raucous baptisms where small group leaders baptize new followers of Jesus won to Him by their group. The shouting and applause is ear-splitting as each new follower comes out of the water pumping their fists in the air to the wild cheers of their small group members and others who know the feeling. The sense of community is palpable and contagious. It’s hard for anyone to resist. And no one wants to. 

The sense of community is palpable and contagious. It’s hard for anyone to resist. And no one wants to. 

As groups grow and new leaders are raised up from within, I regularly hear of birthday parties being thrown as new leadership teams are commissioned and sent out and new groups are birthed. Our Small Group Director excitedly reports that hundreds of new groups are forming all over Central Ohio, and the new leaders are receiving oversight, encouragement, support, and training through an expanding network of coaches. Some days I just shake my head in amazement as I realize that the kingdom of God is now spreading virally throughout the region and is totally out of control. It seems EVERYONE is growing spiritually thru connecting with a group, and Jesus’ Name is being made famous all over the city. Praise God! 

SERVING OTHERS TOGETHER on a Ministry Team 

I DREAM of a church full of radically generous people whose hearts burn to Serve Others Together. Thousands of people have formed hundreds of teams who not only are committed to doing life together in community, but also tackling a kingdom mission they feel called to. Dozens of teams are having a ball serving together inside the walls of New Life, complementing each other and eagerly using their gifts to carry out needed ministry within the Body. Through these dynamic and joyful teams of volunteers, children are loved and discipled, students are taught, discipled, and challenged to reach their schools for Christ, the body is led into deeper worship, followers are taught Bible doctrine, needy people are cared for, marriage and financial training is offered, and other strategic programs in the church are more than adequately staffed. Recipients of these ministries are grateful and feel compelled to pay it forward by passing the blessing on to others. 

Ever-increasing numbers of Serve Teams are also engaging in missional activity outside the walls of the church. They minister in practical ways in our community, literally being the hands and feet of Jesus to needy people. Student leadership teams do community projects and missions trips together. Fresh new leadership teams are sent out nearly every year to birth new campuses all over Central Ohio and beyond. Dozens of daughter and granddaughter campuses have been planted with no end in sight as team multiplication goes exponential.

Work teams form spontaneously and set out for the four corners to extend ministries of mercy to those ravaged by natural disasters. Prayer teams gather to intercede for nations. Short-term missions teams are ignited as they travel all over the globe and observe what God is doing in other lands. The church adopts an unreached people group and begins channeling people and resources to that area of the world, including teams of professionals, managers, and skilled workers who are energized by the realization that their skills are desperately needed there.

As a direct result of their ministry, doors are opened for the gospel and lives are transformed by its power. New relationships and strategic partnerships are forged for kingdom advancement. As I meet with leaders and review progress, I’m flabbergasted to realize that New Life has truly had a significant role in helping to complete the Great Commission in our generation. Truly, God has touched the world through us.

And when it’s all said and done, we’ll cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet, bow down low before Him, and declare that it wasn’t nearly enough in light of the enormity of the magnitude of His love for us.