Start small and go from there...
10 Things I Learned From Church Planting
By Júlio César Leal
During my first visit to Europe many years ago, I tried to give a brochure to a person in the subway. She rejected it. That shocked me. In my home country this would rarely happen. People here, it seemed, were not as receptive to the gospel. So I wondered, How can I break the cultural barriers and reach people’s hearts?
Soon after, while traveling on a train, my 2-year-old-daughter was “reading” a book about the Flood and the creation of the world. A couple beside her were enchanted with her enthusiasm and listened to her attentively while she showed them the pictures and explained to them their meanings.
When we arrived at our stop, we said farewell to the couple with affective and spontaneous smiles, which in other circumstances we would likely not have experienced. That event helped me understand that we can reach the hearts of those who apparently seem “closed” to the gospel message if we use the right “key.”
A Church Is Born
In 2011 I went to Madrid, Spain, to continue my postgraduate studies. I began meeting with a small group of Portuguese-speaking Adventists, most of whom were Brazilians. The group organized initially in 2008, was growing slowing, and dreamed of building a church. I offered to help.
We began our campaign with prayer, and God answered our prayers. The European Portuguese Advisory (EPA) (in Portuguese, Conselho Europeu de Língua Portuguesa), a supporting ministry that helps coordinate and foster the creation of Portuguese immigrant churches in Europe, began dialoguing with leaders and pastors of the Spanish Union of Churches Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SUCC), and meetings were held to discuss the possibilities.
The Euro-Africa Division (now the Inter-European Division) released resources of the project His Hands* to facilitate the foundation of the new church, the first Portuguese Adventist church in Spain.
A Church and a Mission
The Lord blessed our efforts. We were able to obtain—free of charge—a small facility in which to meet and worship on Sabbaths. This strengthened our faith in God’s leading, and we continued to move forward in faith. The official inauguration of the small group was held on March 23, 2012. EPA representatives from London and Switzerland, as well as church leaders from SUCC, attended.
At first weekly attendance hovered around 30, but the members enthusiastically embraced their mission to reach as many as possible of the more than 20,000 Brazilians and others living in Madrid who spoke Portuguese. They happily greeted Sabbath visitors and welcomed them into their group.
The Key to Success
Every human being has spiritual needs, as well as a need for fellowship and companionship with others. A genuine and vibrant Christian group that is biblically oriented can help satisfy these needs. A community of immigrants such as ours can also offer practical assistance, such as providing food to those in need and helping them find jobs or places to pursue their education or learn a second language.
A support network was developed through small-group meetings in church members’ homes. Four small groups prayed with one another and shared sorrows, joys, and dreams. They developed friendships with one another and shared their faith with neighbors, relatives, and others. Sharing Sabbath meals also provided fellowship.
The spontaneity and joy in our social meetings and religious services in the church created an attractive environment for visitors.
A Dream Realized
The small groups, visits to members, frequent phone calls, Bible studies, and daily church life fostered friendship and confidence. When I visited other community churches, I shared the story of the fledgling congregation. Eventually the news spread throughout the region, resulting in many prayers and messages of encouragement.
Adventists from other churches soon began to migrate to our congregation. Former Adventists and people interested in learning about the gospel started attending as well. Before long we outgrew our meeting facility and began looking for something larger.
One day, while talking to a church brother at his automobile repair shop, I mentioned that we were praying and looking for a new meeting site. He showed me a place for rent in front of his shop. It was the size we needed and in a good location, close to a subway station and in a Brazilian immigrant neighborhood. It seemed God was leading. We signed the lease in October 2012.
The new meeting place needed much work and renovation. Church members volunteered both time and resources. Refurbishing the place included constructing a second bathroom, acquiring new chairs, organizing a children’s room, updating the heating system, and, of course, cleaning and painting. The SUCC approved the opening of the new church on November 13, and its official dedication was held January 19, 2013.
All those initial months of hard work, sweat, and tears were finally crowned with the slow but sustainable development of the first Portuguese Adventist church in Spain.
Here are 10 things I learned from helping to plant this new congregation:
1. Success depends on both the heavenly rain and the sweat of those who work in it.
2. Negotiations and administrative formalities can sometimes be dry, slow, and challenging, but they are the inevitable way to plant a new church.
3. Pleasing everyone should not be the goal. But respecting different opinions is a sign of maturity and wisdom, and helps avoid a lot of problems.
4. Words of encouragement can lighten the exhausted soul and strengthen a person’s faith.
5. God often uses humble, weak, and unskilled people to teach us to depend on Him.
6. If we use lack of money as an excuse to do nothing, we don’t understand that God is truly in control.
7. Unless we spend time with people, strive to be close them, and love them, it’s impossible to share our knowledge and experience of God with them.
8. Every pastoral ministry is beyond human capacity, but with God all things are possible.
9. God’s mercy and love toward lost souls allow us be instruments of salvation, independent of our personal strengths and weaknesses.
10. We sometimes need to unlearn things in order to be able to understand other lessons God wants to teach us.
The central gospel message is practical love. After breaking through the numerous artificial and cultural barriers that people use to protect themselves, we find hearts in need of love and understanding. Sincere Christians can provide genuine friendships through which others can experience a true encounter with God.
* His Hands is an initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For more information, go to www.adventistvolunteers.org/HisHands/