Rev. Jeff Bills of Hope Church in Voorhees. Photo provided

Apostles in our Midst: Rev. Jeff Bills and HOPE UMC, Voorhees

May 1, 2017 | | GNJ News

A 2017 Series on Apostolic Leadership in GNJ

Mission: For the last 26 years, HOPE UMC of Voorhees has been intentional in creating a culture that attracts and welcomes all people on the spiritual spectrum, particularly those who “don’t do church.”

“We can only begin our task of making disciples of Jesus Christ by first getting people to walk through the front door,” said Rev. Jeff Bills, founding and lead pastor. “Every avenue is utilized to invite others to HOPE, from social media to snail mail, but we place the highest value on that personal, one-on-one invitation because we know that works best in getting people to give church a try.”

Once through the doors, first-time visitors are warmly welcomed by HOPE’s Lobby Team. Team members not only bring their God-given talent for friendliness to the job, they rely on their training to help optimize that first-impression opportunity. Whether it’s helping folks find the restrooms, the nursery, or a cup of coffee, the team is accessible, open and well-equipped to answer any and all questions. The key to this level of hospitality is making sure each member of the lobby team understands her/his role in the overall mission and vision of the church.

Cutting-edge music, thought-provoking and inspiring videos, along with a weekly message that is both practical and relevant, help make HOPE’s Sunday worship experience a little different from what many expect when they think of church. “We are committed to engaging people in a clear and understandable way,” Bills said. “Our approach is to start where people are and then help lead them to the place Jesus calls us to be. We have always sought to be clear about the difference between the timeless truths of the Gospel and the temporary styles of communication. Styles are ever-changing and the church needs to adapt to stay relevant. The Gospel is the unchanging foundation that keeps us anchored.”

About five years ago, HOPE made a paradigm shift, casting a vision of being a church of small groups rather than a church with small groups. Today, the church has close to 60 small-group offerings. There is literally something for everyone at HOPE UMC, where individuals can connect with others, form communities and grow together in their faith walk. “This past year, we launched a successful, online small-group opportunity for those whose schedules might not permit attending a Bible study in person or for those who are not part of the HOPE family,” Bills said.

Additionally, HOPE’s youth ministry sees anywhere from 65 to 80 middle-school and high-school youth attending worship and small groups each Sunday evening.  More than 90 children make up the weekly Kidz Konnect Sunday morning worship and small-group gatherings.

Following Jesus’ model, the community of HOPE serves others through the operation of a food pantry, support of annual adult missions teams traveling to Haiti and Cuba, and partnering with several Camden City initiatives, including Urban Mission Fellowship, which was founded by a member of HOPE Church.

In a world that is constantly changing, HOPE tries to stay open to all that might lie on the horizon. “We keep the idea that everything changes as our underlying focus,” Bills said. “Our expectation is that change is inevitable, so we work hard to create an environment that is open to that idea and where failure is also an option.”

Not being afraid of change or failure, HOPE has grown steadily into one of the largest churches in GNJ, with more than 1,500 individuals calling it their faith home. “HOPE in 2017 looks very different from how it looked in 2000, and how it looked in 2000 is very different from 1990. All along, I have taught and modeled that growth requires change, change often creates conflict, and conflict handled in God-honoring ways, makes things better,” Bills said.

Apostle: Rev Jeff Bills serves as lead pastor of HOPE UMC and lives in Voorhees along with his wife, Marilyn and two sons, Joshua and Matthew. He served as an associate pastor at Haddonfield UMC for six years overseeing education ministries before launching HOPE Church in 1990. Bills has served as Chairman of the Board for Urban Promise in Camden and for Urban Promise International. He was Vice-President of the Board for the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and is presently a member of the Key Communications Committee for the Voorhees Township school system.

“As the church has grown I have had to learn new ways to lead and empower others to do so as well,” said Bills. “I have loved the challenge personally and have loved seeing how God has brought great leaders to expand each area of ministry.  I can honestly say that I have loved every day that I have been privileged to be a part of this amazing church!”

For several years, Bills resisted God’s call on his life to full-time ministry. When he finally said “yes” everything changed quickly. Doors were opened that were previously shut, he met his wife Marilyn the following week and within a few months was accepted into seminary.

“Looking back I can see God’s fingerprints everywhere,” he said.