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Choctaw Associationís newest church growing through nontraditional outreachcomment (0)

April 15, 2010

By Dee Ann Campbell

It’s about building the kingdom of God,” said Furber Robinson, a founding member of New Life Fellowship Church, Gilbertown.

Just five months ago, during the association’s annual October meeting, New Life Fellowship became the newest member of Choctaw Baptist Association. In existence since September 2007, the congregation is growing, baptizing and following God’s lead for the future.

And they are, as church members say, looking, thinking and worshiping outside the box.

Beginning with only a handful of people, the congregation has grown to more than 40 in attendance for Sunday morning worship services, and the church has already seen the baptisms of 11 new Christians in just over two years.

“It’s been an incredible journey of faith,” said Darnell Pritchard, who, along with her husband Johnny, is among the founding members of the church.

Recently the church called its first pastor, Chris Vowell and his wife, Stacey, and is planning its first revival later this month.

“It’s been exciting to be a part of this,” Vowell said. “We are starting from scratch, and that’s causing people to pour their hearts and lives into it. God has really breathed new life into this congregation.”

In order to reach the unchurched and to follow what they believe is a New Testament style of worship, New Life members decided from the beginning that their worship services and outreach efforts would be anything but traditional. In fact, they work hard to make sure of it.

“We’re not a cookie-cutter church,” Andrea Nordan, a founding member.

According to Nordan, the styles used in worship services at New Life change from week to week.

“Everyone is free to worship in whatever way they feel comfortable,” Nordan explained. “Some people raise their hands and others don’t. People come wearing jeans or wearing suits. It doesn’t matter. We are interested in people, not their wardrobe.”

Vowell added that, despite the nontraditional approach to worship, the church believes that God’s Word is the guideline that governs it all.

“We want to be effective in reaching the unchurched,” he said. “We want to reach those that the church is not reaching. We are staying with the message but using ways that are outside the box to spread that message.”

New Life’s non-traditional approach to worship includes their Sunday and Wednesday evening services. Instead of the traditional evening worship services and prayer meetings, the church incorporates what they call Life Groups ­— small groups of members who meet in homes for prayer, fellowship and Bible study.

“We feel like these Life Groups are the heart of what we are doing, and they are already making a difference in people’s lives, especially among our young couples,” Nordan said.

The church has been meeting on Sundays in Gilbertown in a rented building, a former Methodist church that had been closed for several years.

But early in the church’s formative months, it was able to purchase property for a permanent location just west of town.

The church held a note burning in February in celebration of the final payment on the property.

The payoff was made possible in part by a contribution from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

At press time, the congregation was planning to hold worship services in a mobile chapel located on the new property April 11, and funds are being raised to build a permanent facility within the next two years.

Members say the building project has been a validation of God’s hand at work in their congregation.

“God has really blessed us,” Johnny Pritchard said. “We’ve got the land and the plans, and we believe we can reach more people once we have a building.”

In the meantime, New Life is continuing to reach out to a lost community that they believe is searching for answers.
Vowell said they are “letting the Lord build this church.”

“We want it to be the kind of church you see in the New Testament,” he said. “We are letting some of our man-made traditions fall by the wayside so we can get back to a vibrant relationship with Christ and with each other.”

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