“What responsibility does this church have to non-churched people in the communities surrounding it?” The challenge was straight forward and clear as then Pastor Austin Shelly handed out a map with a ten-mile radius outlining the area surrounding Faith Bible Fellowship Church in Fleetwood PA. The church had reached a saturation point in attendance and expansion of existing facilities was simply not feasible. Those in attendance on Wednesday evening April 14, 1976 united in prayer seeking direction for the future. The answer to Pastor Shelly’s challenge came quickly!
Meetings were held by the elders at Faith where they continued to ponder the challenge and evaluate various solutions. After analyzing the demographic of Faith’s congregation, it was discovered that a significant portion of the church body was from the Oley community. As a result, a recommendation was made to the congregation that a sister church be established in the Oley Valley a little over five miles away. A congregational meeting was then held to discuss and poll the level of interest and commitment to launching a new sister church. Due to the overwhelming interest, a subsequent meeting took place where twenty-six members committed to being involved in this new church plant.
In June and July with elders and members of Faith BFC in attendance, the meetings continued. As the heat of the summer intensified, Faith’s leadership encouraged committed members to take the steps necessary to officially establish a new church. A plot of ground was needed to build a church and they wasted no time in identifying a four-acre field east of Oley on Rt. 73. When a special offering was taken at Faith in July, the amount collected was well above the asking price of $10,000. On August 28, 1976, ten families met at the Olde State Barn in Oley, a modest banquet room in the bottom of a recently remodeled barn. With the land now purchased, twenty-two individuals in attendance became the charter members.
Unanimously, they agreed to extend an invitation to others of Faith church to join them as charter members for the new church.
By September 8, 1976, the charter members of the new church met in the social room of Faith BFC. There a board of trustees was elected, consisting of Clayton Weber, Chairman; Wesley Kegerise, Secretary; and Eugene Kuhns, Treasurer. The total assets of this new church work amounted to $1,240.59.
Seven months later around the same time Thanksgiving dinner trimmings were on most everyone’s mind, the charter members had something else on their minds. What should they name the new church? They chose New Life Bible Fellowship Church.
Some members of the community questioned the wisdom of moving so boldly and quickly without a pastor to lead the church, but by faith and continued prayer these visionary believers continued to plan into the year 1977 as they gathered on most Thursday evenings. By April of 1977, New Life Bible Fellowship Church was incorporated as a non-profit corporation, and by May a loan was approved and secured for $90,000 with numerous charter members putting their homes up for collateral.
On June 1st ground was broken and construction commenced under the direction of Clayton Weber. Many of the founding members assisted in numerous ways during the construction as well as some members of Faith.
During the summer months, while construction continued, leaders from New Life and Faith were meeting quite often to prepare for the future stability of this new church.
In October 1977, the call for a pastor was answered with Rev. Henry Schell of Old Bridge, New Jersey accepting the position. Construction was completed in less than six months, and the first worship service took place on November 20, 1977 with thirty-five people in attendance. The bulletin was focused on worship and prayer with honor and praise to God. With a Thanksgiving Service planned only a few days later, an invitation was extended to all in attendance.
The Dedication Service for this new church was held on January 29, 1978 with leaders from local Baptist and independent churches as well as Rev. Jansen Hartman from Grace BFC of Reading, and Rev. Daniel Ziegler, Director of BFC Church Extension. The program was highlighted with focus on God’s Plan, God’s Provision, God’s People, and God’s Purpose.
By August of 1978 the Sunday morning attendance averaged 80, and with continued growth additional classrooms for Sunday School programs were much in need. Seven months later in March of 1979, an educational wing was completed and dedicated.
When we venture back to the early beginnings of this new church, we discover a report from November 1976 to the sending mother church, Faith BFC of Fleetwood. The charter member group from New Life BFC stated the following:
“First, we do not have a: Building, Pastor, Parsonage or Large Cash Reserves.
We do have a: Charter Membership, Board of Elders, Recognition by Annual Conference as a Church, plot of ground to build on and a name – New Life Bible Fellowship. We are initiating steps to call a Pastor. We are in the process of obtaining State approval of building plans. By tonight we will have two months offerings in our treasury as a ‘nest egg’ to start us on the way to success.
We are very eager to proceed as God allows and are deeply aware of our utter dependence on the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in and through us.”
So, the question today is the same as in November of 1976 …
… Are we, as congregations eager to proceed as God allows?
… Are we as individuals eager to go?
… Is the Holy Spirit moving in your midst to move you to action?
New Life BFC in Oley has continued to eagerly proceed as God allows including being a mother church to Redeemer BFC in Topton, PA which launched in 2021.
Church Extension Ministries has many mission churches with which your congregation or you personally can partner through prayer and support and your ministry of presence. Participating in church planting takes a step of faith just like Faith BFC of Fleetwood did so many years ago. Seek God’s face and catch the eagerness of church planting ministry.
article by Mark Yorgey who attends New Life BFC in Oley, Pa and grew up at Faith BFC in Fleetwood, PA