One Sunday morning in 2011 in the midst of worship, pastor David A. Bennett says he heard a voice behind him speaking into his left ear: I’m calling you to be a missionary to the university district village.
“It shook me to the core,” says Bennett, then in his 23rd year at Bridge of Hope, an Assemblies of God church in Boardman, Ohio. “I knew it was what God was calling us to do, and I just started weeping.”
In his 18th year as senior pastor, Bennett — then 51 — planned to spend the rest of their ministry days at the church and then retire.
God had different plans.
At first, Bennett thought he could both pastor and pursue the new effort, but it proved to be too much. Bennett resigned the pastorate in 2012 in order to become an AG U.S. missionary and form what has come to be known as Converge Group. He serves with Church Mobilization.
It took some time for Bennett to work out the meaning of “university district village.” Initially, he thought the primary emphasis would be church planting and working in a university setting. As he stepped out in faith, raised financial support, and began the new work, the Lord gradually unfolded the ministry’s thrust.
“The ‘university district’ has come to represent secularism in American culture, with the university largely being its place of origin,” Bennett says.
Bennett began collaborating with existing pastors, helping them to grasp a missional vision of the church and community they serve, plus understanding how their specific gifts make that happen.
“Converge Group is mobilizing a missionary movement by influencing other influencers,” Bennett says. “We’re coaching and discipling ministers in more effective processes and even theology in how to engage post-Christian America.”
One of those influencers who has benefited from Bennett’s expertise is David E. Elliott. A graduate of Southeastern University, Elliott served for 30 years in pastoral ministry. Elliott, too, now serves as a U.S. missionary associate with Church Mobilization in the Sarasota/Bradenton area of Florida, ministering to artists.
Elliott, 56, has started a discipleship ministry called Artisan designed to reach artistic, creative, and circus performers, who in turn make other disciples. He stepped out in faith to start the ministry, but needed more direction. Elliott connected with Bennett and Converge Group through a mutual friend.
“David has been an absolute gift of God to us,” Elliott says. “It took somebody who saw things differently, and he was instrumental in helping us to shape this into something reproducible, not programmatic. He reconstructed us with how to be the Church to those who don’t go to church.”
Bennett and his wife, Kandy, both attended Evangel University.