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Overcoming Secretive Barriers

Los Alamos church grows despite its locale near a national laboratory.

Pastoring a church anywhere is no easy task, but leading a congregation in a city with one of the highest rates of Ph.D.s per capita and near a major national scientific laboratory is a wholly different challenge.

Shawn Amburgey became pastor of New Beginnings Los Alamos in New Mexico in 2008, when only seven people attended. Today, an average of 225 people show up on Sundays. Half of the adherents are involved in some kind of volunteer ministry in the church.

Los Alamos, site of the atomic bomb developed during World War II, is still dominated by Los Alamos National Laboratory, which employs 10,500 people in the city of 12,000.

Amburgey says the community presents unique challenges to ministry. For those who work at the laboratory, much of what they do is secret. This makes it difficult to get to know people, because they are afraid they might disclose something in conversation that could get them in trouble.

“When I got to the end of my message and said, ‘Everyone close your eyes,’ people got up and left because they didn’t want to interact,” Amburgey says. In such an atmosphere, attendees often don’t come to faith until numerous visits. People feel they need to “belong before they believe,” according to Amburgey.

New Beginnings focuses on building relationships and trust in the community. For instance, an annual Easter egg hunt at a local golf course, now in its eighth year, draws over 1,200 residents and requires more than 100 volunteers to pull off. The church also distributes shoes to 600 children in local schools and has been involved in constructed Habitat for Humanity homes.

New Beginnings continues to grow, but not without setbacks. In 2012, one week after a baptism service, the church burned down. Amburgey says the congregation came together and many volunteered to help with rebuilding, eventually completing around 60 percent of the new construction.

The fire allowed New Beginnings to expand and update facilities, with volunteer work saving the church about $400,000.

“This was the best thing that could have happened,” Amburgey says.

New Beginnings recently launched a Parent Affiliated Church in the nearby city of Taos. The pastors, Kevin and Crystal Miller, served as youth pastors at New Beginnings for three years.