Pastor Benji Kelley leads the fast-growing newhope church with 10 campuses around central North Carolina, one in South Carolina, and one in Thika, Kenya. It is a contemporary church with a welcoming spirit. If you’ve never attended church, have been attending all your life, or had a bad experience with church along the way, you are welcome here. I have been attending this church for over 8 years. My favorite element about the church is the diverse congregation. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted, Sunday mornings remain the most segregated time in America. Well, newhope has been able to break this trend by creating a place where people of all races, ages, and life experiences come together as a church family. I love that Sunday mornings reflect the community I want in my life.
It was an honor to spend some time with Pastor Benji to hear firsthand about the vision for the church, how he has created such a unique place to worship, and his favorite things about living in the Triangle.
Creating a Diverse Church
First, we started with the topic of diversity. When asked how he is able to create a place where both African American and Caucasian people worship together, he feels that it was a gift from God. I couldn’t agree more. Benji has a gift of being able to connect with people because of his authentic presence on and off stage.
Benji grew up in South Carolina where he saw racist behaviors all too often. He has always had African American friends and has always hated racism. God has uniquely positioned Benji and this church to carry the mantle of racial cohesion. He boldly hosted a sermon series on the topic of race last summer called Grace, Unified Diversity. I was so proud that we were part of the conversation. I believe conversation is the biggest step to improving race relations.
Come As You Are
The church motto is Come As You Are. There are no expectations as to what you wear, education level, what you believe, or if you believe at all. The church teaches the Bible in a truthful and loving way. As Pastor Benji says, “come as you are, grace happens, and you matter to God.” These mantras guide how they attract and interact with members and guests. All are welcome! This is a place where no masks are required, where Christianity isn’t a shiny or polished thing, where you don’t have to dress up, or pretend that all is ok– such a reflection of Jesus’ love for us, as taught through the Bible.
As a growing church, Pastor Benji expressed that he is most excited about connecting with the unchurched, the de-churched (those who have been hurt), and the never churched. He tries to do church in a way where relevance meets reverence. Benji and the other teaching pastors do a wonderful job preaching the Bible in a way that connects to today’s world.
The church was founded in 2002 by Benji and his wife, Amy Lynn. The church currently has 10 campus locations – Central/Durham, North Raleigh, North Durham, Garner, Sanford, Hillsborough, Columbia South Carolina, Kenya, iCampus, and Coffeehouse. Over 7,500 people attend the church at least occasionally with over 5,500 regular attendees. They plan to add another five campus locations by 2020. They will continue to grow until no one else in the area needs hope, needs Jesus, or needs to be saved. The approach is that the campus locations will “birth” if you will, other locations by identifying areas to grow and replicating themselves to create another campus.
Talking About Jesus
Broaching the subject of faith is not always easy. I asked Benji for his thoughts on how to best bring up the topic of faith. He suggested three things. First, share from a personal perspective. Specifically, share what God means to you and how He’s impacted or changed your life. Secondly, start with questions versus a declaration–learn about their experiences and then share your testimony. Lastly, ensure it is a dialogue versus a one-way preachy talk.
Living In The Triangle
When asked what he loves about living in the Triangle, the first thing that came to mind are all the Universities; it keeps a fresh, youthful, and educational environment. He’s a sports fan and loves the rivalries in this area as well. By the way, he and Amy Lynn met at Duke Divinity School–they are true Duke fans! It appears as though his heart has softened for Carolina now that his oldest child is attending UNC.
Pastor Benji loves the progressive feel of the Triangle and that we are a highly educated area, having one of the highest levels of residents with a PhD in the US. The Kelley family lives in Chapel Hill. Their home is a Williamsburg style house. His favorite feature is the large and flat backyard where he plays sports with the kids. Another favorite spot is his sanctuary in the woods which is complete with a cross and prayer bench.
When they have visitors come to the area, they take them to Franklin Street, Duke, and of course newhope church.
I could have spent hours talking with Pastor Benji. He is clear on the mission and vision for this church – a true leader with clarity around his purpose. It is an honor to be a part of the newhope family.
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