The Thursday evening service at Manna Church packs a punch that more than rivals large Sunday morning services elsewhere.
As people take their seats, the band’s thundering bass bounces off the walls, a fog machine spews smokelike vapors and previews of coming youth events and special guest appearances flash on the auditorium’s three screens.
As the nondenominational service concludes, hundreds of people stream outdoors. Kids twirl hula hoops and toddlers play a parachute game in the fading late-summer light. Adults line up at the edge of the parking lot for food trucks dishing out burgers, hot dogs and tacos.
This dynamic megachurch is similar to many others across the country, except for this: 70 percent of church members are military families based at Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military installation. And despite a rapid turnover of members, due to deployments, retirements and transfers to other bases, the evangelical church has not only held steady, but grown.
There are 3.5 million military personnel in all branches of the armed forces. Of those about 1.2 million are active duty and about 40 percent of those identify as evangelical. At a time when many churches are struggling to hold on to members and millennials express a flagging faith, the founder of Manna Church, Senior Pastor Michael Fletcher, thinks he has found a way to keep many of those young military families by building a church home for them wherever they go.
Over the past three years the church has grown from its flagship Fayetteville location to eight churches serving mostly military families across the country. They include one in Colorado Springs, Colo. (near Fort Carson); another in Niceville, Fla. (near Eglin Air Force Base); as well as outposts in Newport News, Va. (Langley Air Force Base, Fort Eustis and others); and Honolulu (multiple bases).
In each new location, it has relied, to a large extent, on a core group of soldiers who had attended the flagship North Carolina church and are able to carry the congregation’s culture to their new assignments on other bases.
Now Manna Church has set an ambitious goal: to open a campus in every city with a large military base.
SOURCE: Yonat Shimron
Religion News Service