Relationships Spark Attendance
In 2000, Wes D. Davis worked as a youth pastor at Gateway Fellowship near Seattle. The lead pastor, Marc Pearson, gave Davis an assignment: start a church for people not going to church.
In 2022, that may seem commonplace, but two decades ago it sounded like a revolutionary idea. Davis, a graduate of Northwest University, accepted the challenge. Newlife Church started with seven couples in 2000. Now the megachurch, located on Kitsap Peninsula in Washington, meets on five campuses, with an average of more than 3,000 in attendance.
The transformation involved plenty of trial and error.
“At first we thought if we started a service in a different time, offered a little different style of music, served some food, dressed super-casual, then everyone who doesn’t go to church will think it is exactly what they’ve been waiting for,” recalls Davis, 51. “We found out that’s not true.”
Sometimes church leaders must figure out what not to do before discovering what to do effectively.
“We learned there were a lot of people who love Jesus and had someone they loved who wasn’t part of a church,” Davis says. “And they said, ‘Can you give me something that I can bring them to?’” From there, Newlife discovered its overall mission.
“We thought if Jesus started the Church with people, then maybe we should, too,” Davis says.
The focus shifted completely to building relationships, connecting people outside the four walls of the church, and meeting outside of a Sunday service. For over 20 years, Newlife has held true to that vision. To this day, the church is seeking to facilitate relationships, while partnering with the community, neighbors, and co-workers.
That holds true not only for the congregants, but the staff as well. One of the pastors volunteered as a fire department chaplain. Davis spent 15 years coaching basketball in public schools. Another pastor volunteered an hour a week to listen to 3rd graders read and assist them with difficulties.
Ryan A. Nelson, 26, can attest to the effectiveness of Newlife. He attended church as a child, which meant usually dressing up, but that did not last long as his parents divorced before middle school.
“I began to make bad choices in high school, hanging with the wrong crowd, and smoking weed,” Nelson remembers. He had a longtime friend who periodically invited him to church youth group.
“I would tell him I couldn’t make it because I had to walk our dog — but we didn’t have a dog,” Nelson says. After a close call legally and barely avoiding what could have been a fatal car crash, he began to ponder his life and thought again about attending church.
He tried Newlife because of its focus on “come as you are” philosophy.
In 2013, Nelson gave his life to Christ and was baptized in water on Easter. On Easter the following year, he baptized his mom, and then on Easter 2015 his sister.
Nelson says the Lord has blessed his exterior cleaning business efforts. His company has 19 employees. And Nelson is really connected to Newlife. He married the pastor’s daughter Kalissa.