January 25, 2011


Pastor Mike Mills of North Ridge Church leads a Sunday service inside the
 gymnasium of West Running Brook Middle School.

North Ridge Church is thoroughly modern — and so is its “viral video”
 approach to raising $1 million for a building fund.
Union Leader Correspondent
From left, Alexandria Zimmerman, 6, McKenzie Phelps, 9, and
Caroline Mills, 11, wait to greet children who
may be attending North Ridge Church for the first time.
DERRY -- Every Sunday for the past seven years, a dedicated crew of roadies for Christ have assembled early in the morning at West Running Brook Middle School in Derry to build a makeshift church from the inside out.
North Ridge Church Media Director Brad Stillwell is among those who help haul in the collapsible structures and hardware to build the stage for the seven-member in-house rock band; run the wiring for the surround-sound speakers; and coordinate the controls for the
 sophisticated audio-visual set-up that is an integral part of every Sunday worship service, including the headset microphone used by Pastor Mike Mills to preach the Gospel to upwards of 200 members in real time. 

From a platform to one side of the middle school gymnasium, Mills delivers his morning message, which is videotaped and broadcast on the church website, www.northridgechurchnh. com, easily downloadable through iTunes for anytime listening. 
And while it’s nothing new for a church to be mobile, or hard-wired for sound and plugged in to the current technology in this ever-advancing digital age, North Ridge Church could be breaking new ground when it comes to its viral building fund, which officially launched Jan. 16. 
The goal: raise one million dollars to build a church of their own, $1 — or a little more — at a time. 
“With this video we hope to reach one million people. No one’s ever built a church this way that we know of,” said Stillwell. “If everyone forwards the video to five people, and those five people in turn share the video, it could go around the Internet — and the world. 
Yes, it’s a crazy idea, but if it can work anywhere, this is the right place for a crazy idea.” 
Bouncing off the kind of successful Internet fundraising that boosted President Obama’s campaign coffers with millions of modest donations by a community focused on “hope and change,” North Ridge is hoping its cause will catch on with even a fraction of that fervor. 
One week in, 1,024 people have so far donated $1,242 to North Ridge Church, their last names growing into a virtual “legacy wall” graphic on the fundraising site, www.buildnorthridgechurch. com. Mills describes his non-denominational church as “nontraditional and non-boring.” 
That, it is. 
Four jumbo-sized silver coffee urns percolate just beyond the school’s entryway, where guests and church members are simultaneously greeted with the offer of a cup of Green Mountain Coffee. 
Once inside, there are information stations, an array of chairs across from a tangle of speaker wires and amplifiers ready to electrify guitars, a keyboard, an electronic drum set and microphone stands. A table in the back decked with a sound board and lighting controls is an essential part of the operation. 
There are classrooms set up for kids of all ages who worship with parents before being dismissed to their respective areas. 
On one recent Sunday, Mills shared a few videos with the congregation prior to his sermon, including one that likened the children’s Sunday school to a martial arts dojo, another that provided a look inside the often dangerous mission of the Christian underground in Vietnam, and a third that riffed off a You-Tube diaper commercial that Mills would use to encourage members to come to God with a childlike faith, as the Bible instructs. 
“We live in a sight and sound generation, which is why I like to use sight and sound tools,” Mills said. 
Beyond taking a modern approach to worship and fundraising, there is also an emphasis here on relaxing many of the trappings of traditional worship services. It’s not unusual to see congregants in jeans, with the occasional Patriots jersey or baseball cap worn throughout the hour-long service. 
However, one place Mills doesn’t compromise is the Gospel message of salvation and the freedom from sin and condemnation all Christians should enjoy, through Christ. 
“We are going to be relevant without compromising holiness,” said Mills, the son of a Baptist minister who decided to establish a church in New Hampshire after spending many years on the road as a Christian speaker. 
His wife, Ellen, is a Chester native, which is what drew the family back to New England. 
“We feel there are lots of great churches here in New Hampshire, but we’re not here just to be another church. We have a unique style — part of that is our ability to reach out to young people and also to men,” Mills said. “And the fact that men are coming means entire families are coming back to church.” 
When asked about his theology, Mills said he lines up with the teachings of evangelist Billy Graham and son Franklin Graham; Rick Warren, author of “Purpose Driven Life,” known also as the pastor who offered up Obama’s inaugural invocation; and televangelist Dr. 
Charles Stanley, founder of In Touch Ministries. 
Although Mills says many of those who find their way to North Ridge Church have had no church affiliation for most of their adult lives, there are those like Pam DeFrancesco, who switched from another more traditional church in town after attending just one service at the invitation of a friend. 
“We just loved it. We loved the people at our old church, too, but it was so traditional and, frankly, routine week after week. The people there were generally much older — everyone here is about our age,” said DeFrancesco, who also got her niece, 19-year-old Tresor DeFrancesco of Manchester, to join North Ridge. 
“I had tried church before, but it always put me to sleep. 
Here, I love the band, I love the way Pastor Mills speaks — he puts the Bible into perspective and it makes sense for my everyday life,” said Tresor DeFrancesco, who was baptized — in a swimming pool — by Mills a few months after coming for the first time. “It’s changed me. I just feel happier now.” 

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