Below is an article from the Willow Creek Association’s magazine Willow. I currently read Mark Batterson’s blog evotional and have read one of his books in the last year. I also read Dave Ferguson’s blog, and his book Big Idea is one of the next ones I will be reading. I have been reading Perry Noble’s blog for over a year, and have had some really good phone conversations with his small groups staff in the last year. Efrem Smith is a local pastor who I’ve had the occasion to see preach a handful of times. His church is an interesting mix without question. I’ve heard him say some things that made me question his theology a bit, wondering how tight he was with Greg Boyd on Open Theism among other issues. I wouldn’t cast him into that group without knowing more though. I first became familiar with Tullian Tchividjian when he filled in for Justin Taylor on Between Two Worlds blog. Tullian did a great job replacing one of the leading Christian bloggers. I haven’t followed Tullian that closely, though I do get some of his writing from time to time when Justin Taylor links him. I have heard of Nelson Searcy through his Saddleback Community Church connection, but that is about all I know on him. I was surprised I had this level of familiarity with 4 of the 5 the WCA chose to highlight.

WILLOW Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1

Faces to Watch in 2008

You see their names on conference rosters. Your friend asks if you’ve read one of their books. You know the name but can’t quite place the face.

Mark Batterson

As lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., Batterson leads a multi-site church with eight services in four locations. Recognized as one of the 25 Most Innovative Churches in America by Outreach Magazine in 2007, NCC’s vision to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the D.C. area is becoming reality. The church was founded by Batterson and his wife, Lora, in 1996 and a majority of the church’s congregation is made up of twenty-somethings (73 percent) who come from unchurched or de-churched backgrounds (70 percent).

In the spring of 2006, the church completed construction of Ebenezers, the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill, which the church owns and operates. In 2007, Ebenezers was recognized as the #2 coffeehouse in the metro DC area by AOL CityGuide and also serves as one of the church’s sites for Saturday night services.

When the iPod first came out and revolutionized the way people listen to music, Batterson saw its potential for a new kind of ministry. He was one of the first pastors to put his sermons in a podcast, which he liked to call the “Godcast,” allowing church members and anyone else who might be interested, access to audio or video podcasts of church messages. News media throughout the country featured the idea, which is now commonplace.

Not only does Batterson connect with people via podcasts, but he also writes a heavily read blog, www.evotional.com, where he muses about a variety of topics. He is the author of the book, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day (2006) and his next book, Wild Goose Chase is set to release in August 2008.

Batterson and his wife, Lora, have lived on Capitol Hill since 1996 and have three children: Parker, Summer, and Josiah.

Nelson Searcy

In 2001, Searcy and his wife, Kelley, moved from Southern California to New York City with a mission to do what many have done … and failed at: Launch a church in the heart of Manhattan. Serving as lead pastor/teaching pastor of The Journey Church of the City, an innovative, multicultural church since their first services in the spring of 2002, Searcy’s leadership and vision has been especially well-received considering he’s an “outsider” and not a native New Yorker.

Offering services in two Manhattan locations, The Journey has grown from a handful of attendees to more than 1,100 people in four Sunday worship services and more than 1,200 people are active in small groups. In the summer of 2006, the church launched The Journey Jersey City with weekend services at the AMC Theater at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, N.J.

Searcy is a speaker, coach, and church growth expert who shares his knowledge and passion for the church with other church leaders around the country.In many circles, he’s known as one of the best strategic minds out there today. Through his non-profit organization Church Leader Insights(www.churchleaderinsights.com), Searcy has personally trained more than 20,000 pastors, church planters, and church leaders in live events and seminars. He is also the author of 20 articles and 30 training resources on leadership, evangelism, church planting, and church growth and his first two books, Launch: Starting a Church From Scratch (2007) and Fusion: Turning First Time Guests Into Fully Engaged Members of Your Church (2008) offer practical approaches to ministry.

Prior to moving to Manhattan, Searcy served alongside Rick Warren as director of the Purpose Driven Community at Saddleback Church.

The Searcys live on the Upper West Side with their son, Alexander.

Perry Noble

In 1998, Noble started a Bible study for college students in his home. In less than two months, the study grew from eight people to 150, and by 1999, a core group of 15 people cast the vision for NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC. They chose to adhere to a biblically-based Christian doctrine, but to be different than the other churches in the community. The group focused on three main areas: creativity, where the church is the most creative place of worship on the planet; excellence in everything with 110 percent effort, quality, and effectiveness; and relevance in teaching people how God and the Bible are important for life today.

The 2007 Church Report recently announced that NewSpring is #21 on the list of the Top 50 Most Influential Churches in the U.S. The church is also one of the 100 fastest growing churches in the country with more than 7,500 people in attendance each week. In January 2006, NewSpring finished construction on its state-of-the-art facility with an auditorium that seats 2,500. More space has meant more people finding God as more than 900 people accepted Christ and 800 people were baptized in 2006.

Noble’s unique teaching style keeps the congregation wondering what will happen during message time. Whether using full blown pyrotechnics or preaching the first part of his sermon from inside a casket, Noble’s teaching is unpredictable, captivating, and biblically centered — and more and more people around Anderson are connecting with him each week. He also writes a blog (www.perrynoble.com) that features his thoughts on vision, leadership, creativity, and “anything else that strikes me worthy to write about.”

Noble and his wife, Lucretia, live with their daughter, Charisse, in Anderson.

Dave Ferguson

Dave Ferguson met with four college friends in a small group which birthed the vision for Community Christian Church, in Naperville, Ill., in 1989 with a mission to help people find their way back to God. Over the years, the church has grown from five to more than 5,000 people with services held at eight locations throughout the western suburbs of Chicago. The 2007 Church Report listed Community Christian Church as #19 on the list of the Top 50 Most Influential Churches in the U.S.

As the multi-site revolution exploded, Ferguson was on the cutting edge with innovative ideas and visionary leadership. He’s able to use his multi-site experience to help other churches and leaders seeking to expand through multiple church sites through the NewThing Network, a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches.

Not only was Community Christian Church at the forefront of the multi-site ministry strategy, but its teaching strategy is being shared and embraced by other church leaders. Ferguson co-authored the book, The Big Idea: Focus the Message, Multiply the Impact, (see page 29), to help other churches learn how they can implement this new approach to teaching. Ferguson’s blog is found at www.daveferguson.org.

Ferguson and his wife, Sue, have three children.

Tullian Tchividjian

When Tullian’s mom, Gigi Tchividjian, eldest daughter of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham, was pregnant with him, she was taking a church history class. She learned about Tertullian, the early church father who held an unwavering commitment to defending God’s truth. She decided to name her child Tertullian and prayed, “If it’s a boy, please make him an ardent defender of Your truth like Tertullian was.” It took many years for Gigi’s prayer to be answered.

Losing the “Ter,” Tullian struggled to come to faith personally and dropped out of high school, spending several long years finding his way. As Billy Graham’s grandson, he rebelled against everything his family stood for, but God didn’t give up on him. In 1993, Tchividjian reconnected with God and he’s never looked back.

Now serving as the founding senior pastor of New City Church in Coconut Creek, Fla., since 2003, Tchividjian is also a popular conference speaker, radio preacher, and author. His new book, Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship (2007), chronicles the intensity of his own spiritual journey and points the way to God for a new generation of seekers. His grandfather sees the potential in this thought-provoking book and said in the foreword, “Apart from the Bible, this may be the most important book you could ever read …”

Prior to moving back home to Florida, Tchividjian served on the pastoral staff of three churches. He is currently a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He lives in Coconut Creek, Fla. with his wife, Kim, and their three children.

Efrem Smith

Efrem Smith and his wife, Donecia, gathered a few dozen people together for a Super Bowl party in 2003 where they not only watched the game, but also shared their vision for an urban, multi-ethnic, Christ-centered community in the heart of North Minneapolis. Soon after, The Sanctuary Covenant Church was launched with a mission to reconcile the people of the city to God and one another. Every third Sunday, the church offers Hip Hop Sunday featuring breakdancing, popping, media, and hip hop music as a way to connect with those in the community who might otherwise never step foot in a church.

As senior pastor, Smith not only provides leadership and teaching to the staff and church body, but he also serves as board chair of The Sanctuary Community Development Corporation (The Sanctuary CDC), a non-profit organization founded by members of the church dedicated to community transformation that extends far beyond the church walls. The Sanctuary CDC’s mission is to build on the strengths in the North Minneapolis community to ensure that people are educated, employed, and physically and spiritually healthy. The wide variety of programs offered are open to all community members, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation.

If that’s not enough to keep Smith busy, he also hosts a weekly radio program, “A Time for Reconciliation,” where he addresses issues that keep reconciliation from happening between people, races, and the church. He is the author of Raising Up Young Heroes and co-author of The Hip Hop Church. His bi-monthly column, The Urban Take, is featured in Youthworker Journal. Smith is a national conference speaker and regularly speaks at colleges, high schools, junior highs, churches, and leadership training events.

Smith and his wife, Donecia, have two daughters, Jaeda and Mireya.

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