With news of NewSpring’s “big announcement” (it even made the front-page headlines of the local newspaper) I thought I’d pay a visit to the third largest megachurch in the USA (according to Outreach Magazine.)
When I heard the rumor that pastor Perry Noble had been fired my first reaction was “NewSpring is finished.” Churches with a celebrity pastor might be booming today, but when that celebrity leaves it’s over. NewSpring, whether they want to admit it or not, is built on Perry’s personality and preaching talent as most megachurches are. We have a recent precedent of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church splintering and closing several satellite campuses after Mark Driscoll left so I had a hard time seeing NewSpring’s 17 campuses growing or even thriving with Perry’s projected hi-def image gone.
You can watch a video of the service here. What you can’t see is the mood of the congregation, and that’s something I was curious about. Would they be sad or angry? As I walked into the building I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary – people were talking and laughing as they were coming and going like you’d expect in any church.
The band opened the service with Hillsong’s upbeat “In God We Trust.” Next, Executive Pastor Shane Duffey explained the situation through a written statement. This part particularly struck me:
“The executive pastors confronted Perry and went through the steps of dealing with sin in the church as outlined in Matthew 18. Because Perry chose not to properly address these issues and did not take the necessary steps toward correcting them, he is no longer qualified as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and the church bylaws to continue at NewSpring Church.”
I was impressed – it takes fortitude for leadership to fire the man who started a high-profile church.
You could hear a pin drop as the congregation hung on Duffey’s every word. He then encouraged everyone attending and watching online with the story of how he had personally dealt with the tragic news.
After “O Praise The Name (Anastasis)” led by worship leader Lee McDerment, Executive Pastor Brad Cooper brought a short message which transitioned into very touching videos of people whose lives have been changed by NewSpring (you can watch those videos in the service broadcast.)
After the closing song “Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)” the congregation was dismissed. Frankly, it was one of the most powerful services I’ve ever attended. The person I visited with commented “Wow, I didn’t expect that – I feel uplifted.” I did too. NewSpring can craft a blockbuster service and this one might have been their best effort ever – remaining upbeat in the face of a massive loss and reminding the church of their impact with those two amazing videos.
Evidently NewSpring has lost nearly 10% of their congregation over the past two years, no doubt due to Perry’s erratic behavior (according to Outreach, NewSpring has dropped from 30,791 in 2014 to 27,836 in 2015.)
NewSpring has enormous hurdles ahead of them as they stabilize the congregation and search for a new pastor. Of course they’ll lose even more people who were just there for Perry and they may even lose a few campuses.
NewSpring claims their best days are ahead of them. The next few months will be interesting to watch and after the positive service last Sunday I hope they’re right.