Megachurches in New England
Through the 18th and 19th centuries, evangelical Christianity experienced several regional resurgences, most famously including the First and Second Great Awakenings, under the preaching of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in the 1730s-1740s, and Lyman Beecher in the 1820s, respectively. “New England has been the base of national and international revivals for centuries,” says Hall. “As parochial as we think New England is, it’s often a center for the outreach of Christianity.”
It’s clear in any case that New England’s evangelicals consider themselves a breed apart. Mike Mancini, for one, doesn’t even like being called an evangelical. “That term brings to mind so many stereotypes–Southern, hard-hitting, holier-than-thou–none of which expand the kingdom of the God of love,” he notes. Elizabeth Clark, too, prefers to dodge the label. “Just call me a Christian,” she says. Felicia Brown, who attends Jubilee South in Stoughton, Massachusetts–an outgrowth of the main Jubilee in Boston–also prefers to be known simply as a Christian. “I’m not sure I want to be associated with everything that comes with the term ‘evangelical,'” she says.
Labels aside, Brown, who works at a pregnancy resource center, is certain about her path–one that was foreordained by God, she says: “Counseling is my calling. I want to cause change in others’ lives … to watch them blossom when they come to experience Jesus Christ.” Ultimately, she intends to be a life coach, she says: “I know that’s my purpose and my destiny.”
Not long ago, Brown attended a leadership conference at Grace Chapel, taking notes as Harvard Business School professor Bill George addressed the crowd via a simulcast from Willow Creek Community Church. “Mmmmm,” Brown murmured when George posited that leadership is about responsibility rather than fame or power. “We’re servant leaders,” George told the audience. “People are not there to serve you. You’re there to serve them.”
“That’s right,” said Brown. “Amen.”
Three days later, Brown sat in the sanctuary at Jubilee South. Again she reached for her pen as Pastor Troy Goode preached from John, chapter 20. “Even though God has wired you for greatness, even though God has wired you to lead,” Goode said, “unbelief is always there.” Brown nodded her head: “Amen, yes.”
Toward the end of the service, Goode urged congregants to step forward physically, “into a new realm” of deeper faith. Brown zipped up her Bible and moved to the aisle. “We’re breaking down fear,” Goode said. “Where there was fear, there is courage.” With the aisle filled behind and in front of her, Brown stepped forward once, then again.
Last September, Jubilee South celebrated its one-year anniversary. Other churches are observing markers of their own. Grace Chapel hopes to soon turn a single worship service into several by designating different areas of the church for different styles: an informal coffeehouse in one place, say, and acoustic unplugged in another. Each service will run separately but will be synchronized in the main sanctuary.
At Faith, Santora’s goal is to keep up what he’s been doing: growing his church at a rate of 20 to 30 percent annually, which translates into some 500 new Christians every year. There are also plans for an 11,000-square-foot youth center with a skate park and indoor basketball court, along with an auditorium, iPod lounge, and Internet cafe. Build it, Santora figures, and the kids will come.