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New Life Worship Center: Food for the Soul

New Life Church at “Rock the City” rally.

By Karen Andersen

Religious worship is supposed to transform the spirit, just as a daily physical workout is meant to transform the body. Transformation was what I witnessed when I recently visited a Sunday service at the New Bedford campus of New Life Worship Center, which is located, for now, at Keith Middle School. I’ve been to many functions in Keith’s auditorium, and I’ve seen the stage transform for plays and ballets, but the transformation that New Life’s presence brought to the space was different. Inside and out, there were colorful banners and friendly people preparing for the service, and Keith Middle School was, if you’ll excuse the pun, converted.

I met with Pastor Marco DeBarros and his wife Lindsey before the service and was given a tour of their converted space with new eyes: the gym had become a wonderfully open space for Sunday school fun and learning, the halls bustled with purposeful movement, and the cafeteria shape-shifted into a welcoming parish hall for coffee hour and fellowship. We settled down at a table, with everyone in preparatory motion around us, and talked for half an hour while the anticipation of the service built steadily.

One of the questions I asked Pastor Marco was, “What is the most important message that you’d like to share?” With a casual certainty, he answered, “God is for everyone, He is involved in our day to day lives. God is not elusive, He wants to have a relationship with us.”

Marco’s message is “…upbeat, humorous, and comfortable as he went from one idea to the next, preaching extemporaneously.”

He wants to help us on our journey. Don’t be closed-minded. Check it out!” On August 23, New Life had a “Rock the City” rally at New Bedford’s Hazelwood Park that drew about 1,000 people to “check it out,” which, to me, seems a fantastic draw for any local religious-oriented gathering outside of the Feast. Kudos for the outreach!

They gave away diapers and clothes and backpacks for kids and raffled off a dozen bikes and a lots of gift cards for local businesses. New Life is digging in its heels in our community in a beneficial way; I think we can too often overlook the Good Works that churches do to keep up with the physical as well as spiritual needs of the people as local and national government cut spending for feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and helping with the small things that make a difference on a limited budget.

At 11 a.m., a two-minute countdown flashed on the big screen, a signal for people to get settled in their seats (aside from all the people running around in preparation, there was also a small prayer group that met from 10 to 11 in the auditorium). At 11:02 the music began. These were not the subdued hymns of old, but much more like modern rock and roll. The band consisted of drums, electric guitar and bass, keyboards, and some lovely lead and back-up vocals. Being in the band seemed like an intense small group ministry of its own and all of the young, hip-looking people appeared to be having a great time making music together, while the crowd raised their arms in praise and sang along.

The audience wasn’t just watching, they were fully participating with mind, body, and soul. I noticed that tears were rolling down several faces, as some people were moved by the Spirit. The energy that was being raised made my spine tingle and I admit that my toes were tapping along to a beat that pulled everyone into a circle of worship that grew tighter as three songs were performed.

Then Pastor Marco appeared down front, and for the next 45 minutes, he preached the “message” for the day. Before the service, I had asked permission to take notes during the sermon and Marco told me, “Sure! Lots of people take notes.

There is a place for kids at New Life Worship Center too!

That way you can go home and think about the message.” And sure enough, I saw many people taking notes as the sermon progressed and Pastor Marco’s message unfolded. His style was upbeat, humorous, and comfortable as he went from one idea to the next, preaching extemporaneously.

The boldest impression I got from Rev. Marco was how expertly he brought Biblical ideas into a modern context, able to be applied in daily life. Holding the Bible aloft, he proclaimed that “everything should be filtered through The Word.” He brought that down to earth by saying that the reality of the Bible is that “life is a beautiful mess;” the stories remain tangible because they “are rooted in eternal principles” that continue to reflect many aspects of our real lives. People’s lives in the time of Jesus was just as beautifully messy as it is now. Responses of “Amen” and “Truth!” chimed in over and over again as Pastor Marco worked the message.

He spoke for a while about social media and using it as a tool rather than something that can suck you in, admitting to his own Facebook usage. You have to ask yourself, “Are you using social media or is it using you?” He pointed out that we have “all the resources in the world and we’re still spiritually starving.” Judging by the numbers New Life is bringing in, he’s right.

New Life Worship Center’s branch in New Bedford opened in January of 2014 and they have close to 200 members already. There were easily 150 people there when I visited, and that’s an impressive enough number for any well-established church’s Sunday attendance, more so for a church who has been around for less than a year. I attribute this to the lively energy and atmosphere that New Life provides, feeding hungry souls, and laying out an interactive “spiritual plan” to follow with the support of others.

But New Life Worship Center hasn’t just popped up suddenly; it is part of a larger non-denominational Christian Church founded by Senior Pastors Steve and Nancy Boyce in 1988, in a small storefront church behind an A&W in Smithfield, RI. By 1993, they had purchased 40 acres in Smithfield and proceeded to build a cutting-edge worship center, which opened in 1997.

The energy and uplifting tempo is infectious!

Since then, they have grown to include Kittens and Cubs day-care and early learning center, Masters Regional Academy, which is a high school, and Northeast Leadership Center, a 9 month program of Ministry Art and Biblical Studies. I should also mention that they have grown to include four campuses, located in Smithfield and E. Greenwich, RI, and Fall River and New Bedford, MA.

Pastor Marco is a teacher at Northeast Leadership and formerly taught at Masters Regional Academy, as well as serving as its Chaplain, and that experience is evident in his ministry. While he was able to reach out easily to the congregation and hold their attention during his message, he also exhibited the mark of any good leader: he inspired others to leadership and service. The very last thing he mentioned in his message was, “A Christian who doesn’t serve is an oxymoron.” Service to God, the Church, and each other is certainly the overarching theme of New Life.

As Pastor Marco left the floor, he was replaced by half a dozen others who ministered to whoever needed it in the charismatic style of prayer and laying-on-of-hands for healing and support. As we all proceeded to coffee hour, outside in the warm sun, I got to speak with several people. They were all passionate about the church, with a certain level of evangelism, but it never got pushy or preachy. It didn’t need to. The group dynamic spoke for itself; this is a safe and happy place for individuals and families to worship the Lord, live The Word, and become part of a community of like-minded people.

One of the members, a kind and interesting young gentleman named Julius, told me, “A boring church is a dead church.” That message is one that every church or spiritual/religious group should heed; when any institution fails to take into account the realities of modern life, they are on the path to extinction. While other churches that have been around for centuries are closing their doors, New Life is expanding with a message that is supportive and practical, in a casual, yet structured, atmosphere.

Sunday services happen at Keith Middle School in New Bedford at 11 a.m., there is a youth group for teens that meets Sunday nights at the Fall River campus (1082 Davol St.), and there are many “Life Groups” to be involved in, including a men’s group, a women’s group, a married with children group, and a married without children group. For more information, explore the New Life Worship Center’s extensive website at www.atnewlife.org or just show up on a Sunday with an open mind. You will find a lot of enthusiasm and you will certainly not be bored.

“God is for everyone, He is involved in our day to day lives. God is not elusive, He wants to have a relationship with us. He wants to help us on our journey. Don’t be closed-minded. Check it out!”

New Life Worship Center

225 Hathaway Blvd
New Bedford, Massachusetts 02740
Phone: (401) 232-5200

Sundays at 11am
Keith Middle School Auditorium

Facebook: facebook.com/NewLifeNewBedford/timeline
Website: atnewlife.org/
Sermons: atnewlife.org/sermons/serieslist
En Español: atnewlife.org/bienvenidos-a-new-life

About Karen Andersen

Karen is a religious education teacher and worship associate at First Unitarian Church in New Bedford. She is working on her M.Div at Cherry Hill Seminary with a focus on Public Ministry and Advocacy. She reads, writes, paints, sings, and rows whaleboats for fun.

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  1. I’ve been attending New Life for years and I have to say confidently that it NEVER gets old, it NEVER gets boring, and there’s always certainty that God is in the midst of it all. I am thrilled with this article, but more so with what awaits the city of New Bedford. The best is yet to come!

  2. I’m a 16 year old highschool student who attends New Life. I’ve been coming to the New Bedford campus since its opening and I have to say that this church is really like no other! Ive grown so much here and I can honestly say that the church has become my family. People here are honest, real, and supportive. I highly recommend anyone to come visit us! God bless.

  3. My favorite place to worship Jesus! Thank you for coming Karen! Hope to see you here again!

  4. Thanks for a great article Karen. I’m glad you experienced and wrote about the same things that drew me to New Life: true authenticity, friendly openness and extravagent passion for God and for others. Many people have told me that they truly appreciate New Life’s Sunday service as a safe place to explore the message and good news of Jesus. Thanks again, cheers!

  5. Love the church very youth focused. Realizing to make a positive change in the city we need to reach our youth and 20 to 40 yr

  6. Awesome church. Very youth iriented. Reaching out to youth and young adults to make a positive change in the city

  7. I have been coming to New Life for over 4 years and the same thing that caused me to join in with this church is what is causing people to come back to our campus in New Bedford, people who genuinely love God and love people. If you have never been to church, or are tired of the same religious boring churches, I urge you to check out this church!

  8. Great Church! Plant yourself in this Church and watch you&your family Grow!
    Here you can get Rooted in the Word! A Tree with strong roots is hard to knock down! Don’t do life alone” Do it With God”. Check Out New Life NewBedford.
    Jesus Loves you He will Heal your Mind,Body,&Soul! Cast your cares upon Him.

  9. Great article, great reporting. Thank you, Karen!

  10. Such a great article by a talented writer! This article is by no chance an exageration if what I get to experience every Sunday!

  11. It is great to see God working in our . city!

  12. Absolutely! You know, life is unpredictable and downright challenging. But to come to a place where the TRUTH of the Bible is taught, not forced down your throat, is what makes all the difference. I think we all know that there’s a God whether we choose to believe it or not, but it’s actually knowing what He says and what His intentions are that makes life so amazing. He has an amazing plan for you and He’s FOR you. But sometimes going through life we forget that and tend to rely on ourselves (“I have to hurry and pay this, now I have to rush off to pick up the kids etc) but that’s not the life God intended for you. Have faith, he’s got it. Check out this church, every Sunday at 11 at Keith. It’s worth it, you should have a place to go to have your questions answered, to be with other Christians and to have a good time in God’s house. You’re welcome here.

  13. What a fantastic article, Karen! Glad your experience at New Life New Bedford was so great. Love this church!

  14. I have been attending New Life New Bedford for over 7 months now and have loved this decision ever since. This article describes New Life at it’s core, a city here to change the way people see church and reach a lost city yearning for hope. Thank you Karen for visiting and shining light on whar our church is doing.

  15. Been going here for about 6 weeks, and already have so many people I call friends. Great group of people who have a desire to positively effect the surrounding area. The enthusiasm is infectious!

  16. I dated the church for a long time, never really finding one that spoke to me. I started coming to New Life over a month ago and it has forever transformed my life. Anyone looking to build a relationship with God in a fun, and loving way then this church is for you! Not only is God for you but every member of this church is for you. I believe this church will bring so many blessings to New Bedford.

  17. I’ve been a part of New Life for over 6 years and I am proud to say New Life is the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s great to be a part of a community of believers who’s mission is to bless the community and impact the world around us.

  18. New Life means exactly what it says….New Life. after attending you are never the same….it is a church that accepts everyone where they are in their life and welcomes then…they teach Jesus…say His name out loud and proclaim his majesty….

  19. The Church will always and should be the driving force in any community. This article is great and showcases what great things can be done when people join together in the same vision! So glad to be a part of New Life Church!

  20. I love my church! It’s an amazing place to learn and grow. New life has made such an impact on my life in the months that I have been there. This is a great article. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do in this community

  21. Proud to be part of this church, it is a church of action!

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