Someone once said that our church was launched out of principle, bound together by prayer, and exists by providence! It sounds strange, but it is very true. Our story begins in 1996 when, after 12 years as an assistant pastor in a number of churches, Jamie Mitchell was challenged to consider becoming a pastor, specifically in Lancaster County. This was somewhat unusual, especially because Pastor Jamie was used to ministering in the metropolitan setting with skyscrapers, subways, and taxicabs. Lancaster would be very different with its barns, buggies, and cows; yet he investigated the possibilities.
What he found would be the foundations of NewSong/Harvest’s future vision. First, he discovered that it was projected that over the next ten years Lancaster would experience significant growth; and 70% of those moving in would be coming from the metro centers of the east coast. Literally, the mission field was coming to the county and most existing churches would not know how to minister to this new people group. Second, as he evaluated existing churches, he was surprised to find that there was no church that had the ministry profile combination that he would want to see developed. A church committed to expositional teaching, driven by biblical community through small groups, providing contemporary worship, elder leadership, and aggressive evangelism. Now there were many fine churches in the county, but few were attempting to see those things occur in a conservative, evangelical Bible church. Finally, as he talked with pastors, he learned that most of the church growth was occurring from a “sheep shuffle,” Christians transferring from churches, and not from conversion growth or real disciple-making. The challenge of seeing genuine discipleship impact happen excited Pastor Jamie. And so he came and began to pastor a small, struggling church in the southern end of the county.
Over the next two years, the vision of ministry began to unfold; and a committed core of believers embraced the dream of building a church that would not do business as usual! The church grew, biblically qualified elders gave leadership; the unsaved were beginning to be reached; and as we now understand; the Evil One was not happy! In the summer of 1998, a conflict emerged in the Body and the elders took a stand on biblical principle; yet it was rejected by the membership of the church. Remarkable as it may seem, Pastor Jamie and the elders found themselves standing on principle but also standing alone! Yet not for long. God moved in the hearts of 27 families and miraculously assembled them to unite together in prayer and consider their future. For 40 days this “gathering” of loving visionaries met week after week, day after day, and night after night, trying to determine what God might want from them.
On the second week of prayer, God led them to ask the Seventh-Day Adventist Church if they could use their facility; and Pastor Peter Smeela and his church welcomed them into their home. After much intercession, hours of discussion, and intense soul-searching, on Sunday, September 27, 1998, they voted to start a new church. The vote was unanimous. They then unanimously empowered a Board of Elders and finally called Jamie Mitchell to be their Pastor-Teacher. Weeks later, when trying to determine what to call this new Body of believers, they stumbled upon Psalm 40:3... “And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.” NewSong Fellowship Church was born! Since that fall, we grew, not just numerically but spiritually and programmatically! During our first 18 months, we tripled in size, established an office in Willow Street, multiplied small groups at a fast rate, and launched men’s, women’s, and youth ministries. In 1999, we hired an Administrative Assistant; and in 2000 we added a Worship Pastor to our staff.
Our steady growth began to cause us to think seriously about a permanent home. In the spring of 2000, we began to save money towards a facility and commenced a search. We looked at warehouses, storefronts, schools, and even considered buying land and a building. Each time we thought we had found a place to call home, God would shut the door! Then in April, we heard about a church, Faith Bible Fellowship, on the edge of Lancaster City looking to relocate. Their facility (20,000 square feet, 300-seat sanctuary, 17 classrooms, gymnasium, and fellowship hall) had been for sale for five years with no offers. It was like God was holding it for us! We met with Faith’s leadership and were able to come to an agreement: We could have the building and furnishings for $525,000, and they would hold a mortgage for one year at 6% interest. We would only have to pay interest for the year. The only stipulation was that we had to raise $300,000 in 90 Days! A professional fundraiser told us that “humanly, it could not be done.” We then knew that “it had to be a GOD THING!” We were convinced that only through an unusual commitment to prayer would we see God’s hand move. For 90 days we had at least one person praying and fasting daily for God’s help. By our second anniversary, we were able to reach the goal. We closed on the building on November 1, 2000 and had our first service on November 12th. Many have marveled at how a church that was just a few years old could accomplish all that it did in that amount of time. Again, we can go back to what brought us together: principle, prayer, and providence!
But the story does not end there. In 2001 we added Jerry Lingenfelter (who currently serves as our Assistant Senior Pastor) and Brett Lovern (who is our Pastor of Worship and Arts) to our staff. These additions demonstrated our commitment to provide the leadership needed to minister to our Body and mobilize workers for strategic growth. Over the next year we saw tremendous growth in our youth and worship ministries and discipleship of young women. Our relationship with Lancaster Bible College has opened up opportunities to have numbers of ministry and pastoral interns in the church. In the summer of 2002, we sent our first short-term Global Impact Team to minister in Japan. In addition, during that same summer, we supported and sent nearly 25 different individuals on some type of missionary experience. Shortly after, mission teams to Mexico, Macedonia, and Costa Rica were added; and we hosted a number of life changing conferences and events. In the fall of 2002, we launched “For Such A Time As This,” (FSATAT) an 18-month comprehensive ministry campaign to raise funds and solidify our vision for future impact. FSATAT allowed us to completely remodel the gym and sanctuary, retire the mortgage, and launch a second site. And so we grew…
In 2004 we experienced a number of significant events. We launched the first church plant. NewSong West, now known as Crossings Community Church, started in February 2004 with Pastor Jamie traveling there each Sunday to preach. By that fall approximately 70 people were attending and a teaching team was assembled. On October 31st we burned the mortgage on our facility, completing the original $250,000 mortgage in four years. For Such a Time as This had accomplished its goal, and now the future looked brighter with no debt and a new church emerging! In November, we held our first Global Impact Festival. The conference brought in missionaries from around the globe to challenge us. It is clear that significant involvement around the world is part of our future. Along with that, our church linked hands with ten other churches in Lancaster and started the Hope Initiative, assisting the village of Tseikuru, Kenya. In November, Pastor Jamie and Ed Bley went and visited the village with World Vision. More than 225 children affected or infected with HIV/AIDS have been sponsored by our church.
In 2005-2006, during our seventh year of ministry we took a “sabbatical.” We did not stop doing church; but we did recalibrate our hearts, minds, and ministry focus. We recast the vision and determined “what God had made us for;” and we recommitted to the task of multiplication. We determined to multiply our small groups and cultivate leaders with the NewSong DNA deeply embedded in their hearts. We renewed our commitment to church planting.
Additionally in 2006, the church became an affiliate of Harvest Bible Fellowship, a network of churches associated with Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, IL. Harvest’s passion for preaching God’s Word without apologizing; dynamic worship; passion for church planting; and compatibility in leadership structure gives us a larger group of churches to identify with. Their yearly training events and even Pastor MacDonald’s presence at our tenth anniversary celebration has been an added blessing to our overall ministry.
By 2007, due to the church’s continued growth, our limited space was stifling both fellowship and the ability to serve the church. A major facility remodeling project began with the expansion of a lobby that also connected the gymnasium to the worship area. All bathrooms were remodeled; a wheelchair lift was installed, and we completely redecorated the children’s wing. In the summer we hired Pastor Nate Newell as the future pastor of our next church plant. During the next 12 months, he served as our interim youth pastor and prepared for the new work of planting another church. By the spring of 2008 it was evident that our next church would be in the southern end of the county in Quarryville. In June 2008 we started services, and a growing, functioning church, Oak Hill Fellowship Church, began.
In 2009, after a long and agonizing search for a Pastor of Next Generation Ministry, the Lord led one of our elders, Ed Bley, to answer the call. Pastor Ed was brought on staff to give oversight to student ministries, young adults, as well as ministry to parents.
In the fall of 2010, our long held predictions came true and we ran out of space, especially for our children’s ministry. There were literally no more rooms available for classes or expansion. We discovered an 1860’s converted farmhouse and carriage house about a mile away from the church facility and purchased it to move our administrative offices there along with additional space for classes and meetings. This opened up the church facility and gave us the space needed to properly teach and nurture the next generation. It also allowed us to expand our ministry off-site at the new facility by housing a recovery group, BILD classes, and our art ministry for weekday opportunities. In 2010 we also ramped up our use of technology for greater impact. We launched the live-streaming of our services on Easter Sunday 2011 and have found great acceptance of this media ministry. This has given us an opportunity to broadcast our teaching to various satellite locations for future church plant development. In 2011, Pastor Ed moved into the role of Pastor of Administration and Family Ministries and we again found ourselves looking for a person to work with the youth. We called on Jared Schnapf. Jared left teaching and coaching in the public school and began ministering to our students.
In 2012, after an extensive season of considering what the next few years will look like, we realized that our opportunities outweighed our resources. There was so much to do and so many avenues of ministries, yet facility limitations, financial restraints, and the youthfulness of the church called us to make some strategic decisions. First, we decided to remove any self-imposed growth limitations and allow God to grow the church however large He willed. This meant we needed to find a new facility to house the future potential growth. We also determined that we needed to align ourselves fully with Harvest Bible Chapel. After six years as an affiliate, we decided to become a partner church and change our name to Harvest Bible Chapel Lancaster.
Now being Harvest, we are positioned to assist with massive church planting. It has also allowed us access to additional resources and a common fellowship with nearly 100 other churches both nationally and internationally. We believe our best days are ahead of us!
Yet through all the changes our mission remains clear, simple and reachable: “Harvest Bible Chapel Lancaster is a biblical community of Christ-followers who are making disciples and multiplying like-minded Churches.” We are all amazed and humbled by what God has done in our midst. God has been showing Himself strong in our lives. We have seen Him do “more than we could think or ask.” We anxiously anticipate the next chapter in this story, and we will continue to be in awe of His grace and goodness. We will never cease to declare, “To God be the Glory!”