As we arrived at New Life Church (Avadi, in Chennai) the service had already started and so we were ushered inside. As we walked through the entrance we came across about 200 plastic chairs under a roof all facing the front and the place was already fairly full. Then I realised that this was just the overflow. When we walked into the main church building the room was packed with over 400 people. After the service I discovered that there was a meeting room directly above us, of the same size, which was also full of people since the service was relayed up there through TV screens. So, all up, there must have been somewhere between 700-1000 people there. And that was only one of four services today. Pastor Jacob Koshy estimates that, if everyone who attends New Life Church turned up together there would be about 7500!
It was such a privilege to preach in this lively service. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal – lots freedom for people to express themselves – some dancing and laughing, and generally engaging with whatever happened in the service. It was very exciting to see how passionate the people were about following Jesus.
I did get a glimpse of what it feels like to be a celebrity, however. Pastor Koshy introduced me as a very handsome visitor. Actually, that comment has nothing to do with this post, I just wanted my wife to take note. After the service many people wanted to talk with me as they left. And then it happened. One person asked if they could take a selfie with me and the floodgates opened. Everybody clamoring to do the same. After about 10 minutes (with me feeling very uncomfortable) our lift home arrived and was blocking the road, which gave me the opportunity to say that I had to go and jumped into the car in order to escape. Like a teenage boy-band. (Except NOT One Direction.)
Pastor Koshy is dearly loved by all and his charismatic personality is clearly part of the reason why the church has grown so big. To be fair to him, before I preached he told the church that he was not going to be so involved in the services and asked them not to expect him to do everything but to be content when the other Pastors take part. So he is not encouraging the hero worship. It was quite a phenomenon though.
I thank God that almost all church members come from the local area. There is a real expectancy that God will impact the community around Avadi through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I give thanks God for that.
(I must add that I have promised Mr. Pandian some posts about Theological Education next week, following our trip to a Lutheran College previously. Next week, as I return to the UK, I want to start writing more in-depth posts as I seek to apply what I have learnt. Oh yes, and it is safer to write once I’m back in England 🙂 )