Christian Center found two-state solution for huge congregation

Posted: January 13, 2014

A MINISTRY THAT'S equal parts church and counseling center, Pastor Ray Barnard's Impacting Your World Christian Center takes the "impact" part of its name to heart.

The center emphasizes "real-world applications" of Biblical teachings - like how to maintain strong marital relationships, build leadership skills and manage money wisely.

"There's a lot of information in that book," Barnard said.

Who we are: Barnard's congregation numbers about 3,000, drawing worshippers from Philadelphia, South Jersey and Bucks and Montgomery counties.

"We cover the gamut," Barnard said. "I see professionals, working class families, young adults, single people sitting in my pews.

"People come here because they want a contemporary worship experience that's relevant to their lives."

Where we worship: In its early days, 20 years ago, the center was Barnard's home, with a congregation of 11 people who would gather in the living room on chairs borrowed from a local YMCA.

A few years later, they'd grown into a former Presbyterian church at 5507 Germantown Ave., across from the Germantown White House, where George Washington is said to have worshipped. (His name is on the church's cornerstone.)

Now they have a second campus as well, in a 7,500-square-foot former synagogue in Cherry Hill, N.J., at 2901 West Chapel Ave. Barnard splits his time between the two locations.

"We had people standing outside in Germantown, waiting to get in," Barnard said. "I knew we'd have to expand, and Jersey seemed to be the best fit for serving our members."

When we worship: The center hosts five "worship experiences" each week. In Philly, there are two Sunday prayer services (8 and 11:30 a.m.) and two Wednesday Bible study sessions (noon and 7 p.m.). In New Jersey, prayer services are held at 10 a.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Thursday.

Congregants who can't make the drive to either location can tune into the center's live Web stream, which broadcasts services online.

What we believe: As its name implies, the Impacting Your World Christian center is rooted in the Christian tradition, with Barnard's weekly sermons focusing on the teachings of Jesus found in the Bible.

"Our beliefs are pretty simple," he said, appealing to those who are "searching for God or looking for a better relationship with Him."

"We're not out to scare or badger anyone, just teach those interested in learning."

What we're known for: "Building success" in the lives of worshippers, Barnard said.

The center's "Queens in Training" group mentors young women, offering leadership and career training, intervening at a time when they're "vulnerable to temptations and dangers" like teen pregnancy and illegal substances, Barnard said.

The congregation also boasts a sizable prison ministry, working with both genders, that helps ex-cons with the transition to life post-release.

Big moral issue we're grappling with: How to reconcile morality with modern culture, which can get thorny in the era of "sexting."

It begins, Barnard said, with an acknowledgment that some things are sinful. "We talk about forgiving sins, about finding grace and working to avoid repeating those behaviors," he said. "But you can't have forgiveness if you don't have right and wrong."

Words of hope: "All things are possible to those who believe," Barnard said.

"You can do anything if don't let go of faith," he said. "Feed your faith, and you'll starve your doubts to death."

On Twitter: @Vellastrations

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