Jesus at the Paramount
24/10/2007 12:00:00 a.m.
"THERE’S a misconception that church congregations are getting older," says John Cameron, Arise Church senior pastor.
"There are many new churches that cater to the new generation, and we are one of them. Seventy percent of our congregation is between 18 and 35 years old, with a sizeable group in their 40s and 50s, and a few over 60."
Cameron says the combination of less formal sermons, the rock concert-like music, and using a movie theatre as a church, give the organisation an edge that traditional established churches don’t have.
"The Paramount is a venue that people can relate to, and the topics discussed are aimed at people without a church background. The full band – which includes three guitarists, drummer, keyboardist, bassist and at least five singers – makes the service vibrant and contemporary."
The church predominantly sings songs penned in the last five years, including their own in-house written tunes.
The 34-year-old pastor says his "journey with Jesus" has not been an easy one. Cameron grew up in Auckland, attending Grace Fellowship Pentecostal church with his parents until age 14.
"It was then that I walked away from my faith because I didn’t think Christianity was for me – going to church was something my family ‘just did’."
Two years later Cameron left home and did "all those teen things – drinking, smoking, taking drugs – which was fun at the time but I’d wake up the next day feeling empty."
In 1991 Cameron’s "casual" belief in God turned into "real faith".
"It was my father’s birthday when I made the formal decision to follow Jesus. A week earlier I had come back from a church service feeling moved. It was a fairly dated service of 100 people in a little hall in New Lynn. I just felt that God was there."
Cameron finds it difficult to explain how he knew it was God and not his imagination.
"That is a question every pastor should be able to answer succinctly. I just became aware. I think every person has an awareness of God tuned into them, but only you know what that feels like. It’s not a feeling you can manipulate. It’s like love, only you know if you are in love with someone. You just know. You know what you know when there is no way of knowing. It’s a spiritual feeling that impacts your emotions and the way you feel physically."
It was then that he knew he wanted to set up a church.
Cameron says his life changed because his desires changed, at that moment.
"Before my decision I was drawn towards drinking excessive alcohol, for example, but with my wakening of faith I didn’t experience that desire at all."
When Cameron went on to become a pastor and lead the youth group of Encounter Church in Auckland. Ten years later, he and his wife Gillian felt compelled to set up a church in Wellington.
"In our hearts it is what God wanted us to do – and you can never have too many churches."
The couple arrived in the capital on Labour weekend 2002, with five others to set up a church, and held their first service of 60 people at Te Whaea Dance and Drama Centre.
"Half of the congregation was my family," Cameron laughs. "We drove them from all over New Zealand to be there."
In week two the congregation dropped to 36, the next 35, and the following 33.
"I was worried if we kept going at that rate we wouldn’t have a congregation by Christmas."
But numbers slowly increased "due to word of mouth", says Cameron, and by October 2006 the congregation outgrew Te Whaea.
Now the church negotiates a year-by-year lease of the main theatre at Paramount, and draws 1,400 people to their three Sunday services, plus youth group meeting (at Wellington Girls’), and will celebrate their fifth anniversary at the Town Hall on November 11 from 5pm.
"Everyone is welcome," says Cameron.