Saturday, September 3, 2005

Hands go up in blessing as Pastor Wayne Cordeiro leads the congregation in prayer for the youth members on stage at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Kalihi.

Faithful expansion

New Hope Christian Fellowship
marks its 10th anniversary with the
help of hundreds of volunteers

» Cordeiro sees role of church as outreach

It was business as usual Tuesday night at New Hope Christian Fellowship, and that means dozens of people involved in activities at the fastest-growing church in Hawaii.

Women ended their workday at an evening potluck supper and Bible study meeting by gathering to ponder the words of St. Paul. Most of the 60 "Women in the Word" were veterans at the technique of journaling their thoughts and confident at expressing their own views of Scripture at the weekly session that aims to strengthen souls and social ties.

New church members were getting an introduction to "Experiencing God" in another room of the church's Sand Island Lead Center, committed to a 13-week course that includes daily homework.

Upstairs, a small group of people undertook a more intense form of sharing at a Christian 12-step meeting for substance abusers.

Meanwhile, senior pastor Wayne Cordeiro and other New Hope leaders entertained 80 pastors from eight states at the dinner finale of a six-day practicum. The pastors and their wives had toured New Hope ministries and shadowed Cordeiro.

It will be business as usual next weekend, too, as the evangelical church celebrates its 10th anniversary. The five weekend services at Farrington High School draw more than 8,000 people. About 5,000 others attend five satellites and two separately organized branches around Oahu. There'll be some special, celebratory surprises, but it will be worship time, not just a party.

Churchgoers Tom Given, left, and Arthur Pickens share a moment of silence following communion as Shannon Nakamura, center, and her daughter Charlene drink the wine symbolic of the blood of Christ at New Hope Christian Fellowship.

In the 10 years since Cordeiro and a core of volunteers started the Pentecostal congregation, New Hope has become a household word among other Christian churches here, not just because of the enviable crowds drawn to worship services, but because of the impressive corps of volunteers who commit to sustained service in church ministries.

"This church exists because of volunteers," said former real estate executive Dan Shima, one of the founders. "We try to equip them," he said, quoting advice St. Paul gave the Ephesians.

The Pacific Rim Bible College was organized four years ago to prepare future ministers and leaders. Some 120 students began classes last week at the New Hope facility in computer, writing, general psychology and life skills as well as Bible courses.

The church rolls on with about 70 full- and part-time paid staff and 1,500 volunteers. Former state judge Elwin Ahu, New Hope administrative pastor, and Shima, who heads New Hope International, the church-planting arm, are among many members whose professional experience make the church operate like an efficient corporation.

Shima said it takes almost 1,000 people to "do church" on a weekend, from the teams that begin setting up tents outside Farrington on Friday nights to about 400 Sunday School teachers for preschool through fifth-graders to cover the five services.

"We give a test to determine what their gifts are," Shima said. The Design test sorts people out by their answers to multiple-choice questions.

Making people focus by filling in a form is so New Hope. A fill-in-the-blanks form comes in the Sunday bulletin, for listeners to highlight the sermon's main points. Bible study groups follow a study guide with spaces to fill.

A Pentecostal Christian worship service typically provides a time for new believers to affirm they have found Jesus, often by coming forward to the altar. That doesn't work with the high-tiered seats and stage at Farrington, so converts are directed to pick up a "Yes" packet at the concierge desk outside. It contains a New Testament and a "first steps" guidebook with scriptural citations and questions about them, with blank spaces to record the basic beliefs.

Jonathan Smith, pastor, handing out the packets, said, "A lot of people receive Jesus out of emotion and have no clue what they did." He talks to the newly saved and collects their addresses and telephone numbers for follow-up. Last Sunday, 173 people collected the packets. That afternoon, 122 people chose to be baptized by immersion offshore of Magic Island.

Behind the form-filling is the strategy that "if you respond, it makes it stick in your head better," Cordeiro told the visiting pastors.

"Don't go for a home run, go for a base hit," was his advice about the weekly sermon. "A simple gospel is more powerful than complex philosophy."

The visiting pastors raved at one stop in their tour, a backstage room at Farrington where technicians videotape and record each service. Copies are made at the site, and CDs of the day's sermon are on sale by the time the crowd leaves the auditorium. The sermon will be shown on a cable channel three times during the week.

The Rev. J.R. Camfield, an El Paso, Texas, pastor, was impressed with the smooth operation: "The logistics and the heart move in a flow here. The servanthood of the people in the islands is phenomenal."

His wife, Caroline, said: "We hear a lot about relationships today; they're the key to everything. Here, it's not just about being chummy. They attach everything to a soul."

Some visitors echoed the envy some local pastors express at New Hope's financial freedom. Church leaders decided not to buy real estate and build edifices, but to invest the $10 million in annual income into people and ministries. They lease the Sand Island facility and pay $66,000 annual rent for Farrington space.

Farrington Principal Catherine Payne estimates that New Hope has poured several hundred thousand dollars into the Kalihi school since 1996. The rent, which is shared with the Honolulu district, provides a predictable source of money for repairs: "It has made us a lot more self-reliant.

"We were going to close the auditorium because it was so run-down and we couldn't afford to fix it," said the principal. The church installed new air conditioning and a sound system, and volunteers have painted the auditorium, the gym and several classrooms. Church members cleared trash and mowed lawns on campus before the new semester began.

Payne said there are lines of church and state separation to be observed, but generally, "Their idea of service fits our motto, 'Go Forth and Serve.'"

New Hope Christian Fellowship

New Hope Christian Fellowship senior pastor Wayne Cordeiro is frequently invited to speak at church and business conferences and at other churches.

Cordeiro sees role
of church as outreach
to help people grow

Wayne Cordeiro, New Hope senior pastor, says the role of a church is to apply the Scriptures quoted at a Sunday service to the life of the listeners all week long.

"If it is just a weekend church, where you go in and punch your spiritual timecard with God, what does that have to do with you and the son that's rebelling?" he said. "We have to take God's word and make it applicable. We also have to have a follow-up structure so Mom can call and say, 'My kid is giving me warts,' and talk to the youth pastor."

The church that Cordeiro founded has grown through its 10 years into a huge network of 50-plus ministries and programs to support and nurture members and to harness their energy as volunteers. With 8,000 people at the average weekend worship, New Hope Christian Fellowship is a local personification of the nationwide phenomenon of mega-churches and the mushrooming of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity.

"The Lord never said, 'Build a big church,'" said Cordeiro, 52. "God said to me, 'Build big people, not a big church.' I remember him saying that. He was speaking to me about the motives of my heart. I knew he wanted me to do something solid in Hawaii."

Cordeiro talked about his vision for the church in a recent interview. With 12 years as a Hilo pastor behind him, and a business college education, Cordeiro and his core of supporters planned for a year and built up a leadership base before they set up folding chairs on Sept. 10, 1995, for their first congregational worship service at Stevenson Intermediate School. Not only did the base church thrive, it has split off satellite branches on Oahu and has "planted" 83 new churches in Hawaii, other states and several countries.

"Instead of building a vertical church where (administrative pastor) Elwin Ahu and I can pastor a church of 15,000, we decided to break them up and to pioneer a whole bunch of them, at 500 here, 2,000 here, then we'll have 20 pastors. I thought, let's go horizontal and make platforms for young emerging leaders and help them, then people will get better care," said Cordeiro.

A prolific writer and author of several books, Cordeiro is frequently invited to speak at church and business conferences and at other churches. He travels for firsthand knowledge on issues, such as recent trips to the Palestinian territories and to Sri Lanka, where New Hope teams and partner churches provided relief for tsunami victims.

"There is no better classroom than to travel the world and talk to the people," Cordeiro said. "I am a perennial student of life.

"My philosophy is, when the tide rises, all the ships should rise. So if God is doing something in Hawaii or the world, I want all the churches to rise -- Catholic, Protestant, anyone who has faith in God. The Lord will speak to all of them. If we share our ideas, the ships will rise.

"You never dim the light of your candle by lighting that of another," he said. "I'd rather light a bunch of candles.

"I believe that God's people are so special that they deserve to be led well. People are looking for good leaders today."

That thinking led New Hope to create its Pacific Rim Bible College five years ago to prepare its members for leadership roles.

Though supportive of many other Christian efforts, he is selective about community involvement, including some of the political causes that other churches take up. New Hope is rarely involved in interfaith events.

"If there is a cause far beyond our beliefs and our doctrines, we would jump in," he said. "If it is for a cause of praying for peace or helping families, 9/11, peace, the Iraq war, those kinds of things, absolutely. If it is an attempt to be an interfaith agreement where we all compromise in order to agree upon, and that becomes our new doctrine, no."

Cordeiro said God does speak to him. "Just in a nanosecond, you'd know, a ream of material has been deposited into your heart. ... We call it revelation. God revealed that to you. When he said, 'Build big people, not a big church,' that is just right."

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