Asbury Seminary Alumni in the Fastest Growing Churches in North America

by Sandra McKinney, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore Campus, Alumni Office

Outreach magazine’s 2012 edition of the largest and fastest growing churches in America revealed several Asbury Theological Seminary alumni.  Four Asbury Seminary alumni made the list.

Dr. Benji Kelley received his doctoral degree in Christian Leadership and Preaching in 2001 from the Beeson Pastor Program.  After graduating, Pastor Benji returned with his family to North Carolina and founded New Hope Church in Durham.  New Hope Church is listed as the fifth fastest growing church.  It was founded in 2002 and “averages over 3,000 people per Sunday and ministers to over 5,000 throughout central North Carolina.”

Asbury Theological Seminary alumnus Rev. Dr. Nancy Pickens serves as the Christian Counselor at New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages, Florida.  In 2005, she received her Masters of Arts at ATS.  New Covenant is listed as the one hundredth fastest growing church.  Rev. Dr. Pickens offers pastoral counseling in relationship issues, personal crisis, depression, integrating marriage and family, and addictions.

Rev. Kerry Cathers and Pastor Steve Melson both graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 1982 with masters in divinity.  They are serving as associate pastors at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX.  Rev. Cathers is an Associate Pastor with Amazing Kids, reaching the heart of children right where they are.  Pastor Melson serves as an Associate Pastor of Gateway Groups, where people grow, live life and serve together.  I recently had the opportunity to ask Pastor Melson about his perspective on the growth of Gateway Church.  “It’s never about natural talent, innovative strategy, creative marketing, or special resources.  Rather, it’s His grace and His story demonstrated through ordinary people,” noted Pastor Melson.  “It is always His ministry, not ours.  We’re just stewards of the people, opportunities, and resources given to us.  So, our part is to hear, believe and obey.  He’ll take care of the rest.”

Asbury Seminary is committed to preparing laborers for the harvest.  Pastor Melson affirms how Asbury prepared him.  “While I’ve passionately loved God’s Word since coming to Christ as a teenager, my time at ATS increased my hunger and sharpened my skills.  I’m grateful for revelation received and insights gained while studying and praying over scripture.  Many of the courses taken and sermons heard during my seminary days were mustard seeds that have since grown into fruitful trees, much larger and very different than what appeared at first.”  He goes on to share, “Now over thirty years later, spending time in God’s Word and letting it shape me, along with the people I serve, is my favorite aspect of ministry.  I love to feed and lead God’s flock!”

Pastor Melson had a final piece of wisdom for the students of Asbury Theological Seminary. “Pray frequently the servant’s prayer in Psalm 143:8-10.”  He reminds us each that “nothing is impossible with God!  Don’t be afraid to step out in faith or give something up, because He has such awesome things in store for you.”

If you would like to check out the ministries of New Hope Church, Gateway Church, or New Covenant United Methodist Church, please visit them at,, and

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