Miami is the most international city in the United States, which means 61% are foreign born (#2 is Washington D.C. at 53%). This is what makes planting a church in Miami so unique and challenging. One of the complexities is this- How bilingual should your ministries be from the beginning? So, I decided to ask some church planting experts, Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im from NewChurches.com. They graciously answered a question I recently submitted. This is what I asked:
“In planting multicultural churches, do you recommend launching the first service bilingual?”
Ed & Daniel graciously answered my question! If you’d like to hear their response, go to Episode 123 on the New Churches Podcast (start at 3:02 min). In their answer, Ed & Daniel say many helpful things:
“The first thing they teach you in missiology is ‘don’t tell people of other cultures what they should do.’” –@edstetzer
“There’s a lot of different expressions in terms of how you want to do church in a multi-ethnic context.” –@danielsangi
“When we look biblically, there’s not a prescribed form of how to do multi-ethnic ministry.” –@danielsangi
Their bottom-line answer is “depends,” which I translated to mean, “let your core group decide.”
If I would ask the question all over again, I would have asked, “Do you know of any churches that launched with a bilingual worship service and then became financially self-sustaining within 3-5 years?” If anyone reading this post has experience planting bilingual or trilingual churches, I’d love to know your thoughts!
Please pray that God would give us wisdom as we investigate to know what would be the most contextually appropriate way to launch a new church in our target area of Miami!
Over these past few months, I have attainedexceptional clarity on what it is going to take to plant a church in Miami. By no means do I claim to be an expert on Miami or on church planting per se. However, I do claim to know what needs to been done in the next few years.
For my right-brain friends, let me put it this way: God has brought me up to the base of a very tall Mountain. I can see all the details very well from this angle – all the cracks and crannies and caves, the peaks and valleys – all is laid before my eyes. God then says, “All right, climb up.” The problem with this Mountain is that it is a straight up wall with no trails or graduated slopes. It looks more like a 5-mile high cliff than a mountain. It is literally impossible to climb!
Now for my left-brain friends, this is what I mean: My time at Perimeter Church has afforded me time and resources to do in-depth studies on church planting and and the development of vision, character, calling and skills. I have researched the city of Miami, done demographic and ethnographic studies, developed a ministry plan, a 5-year budget, along with a working philosophy of ministry. Now I know I need to raise an astronomical amount of money, move my family into a community that is 90% international & 85% unreached (no affiliation with any religious organization), and plant a dynamic and sustainable church within 5 years. The task appears daunting!
At the base of this Mountain, God has been teaching me that prayer is my primary ministry. Church planting is an entirely spiritual venture.Only God can take me up this Mountain! A husband and wife cannot have a baby by simply dreaming about or planning for a baby; they first must exercise their conjugal rights. The same is true for a church planter who cannot birth a church without prayer. Just as Neil Cole has famously said,
“The church must be conceived in heaven before it is born on earth.”
I’m convinced now more than ever that a “successful” church plant will only be because our Father in heaven answers our prayers to bring His kingdom to earth. God alone can take me up the unscalable Mountain through your prayers! For that reason we are looking for several prayer warriors who will covenant to pray for us as we prepare to plant in Miami. If you’d like to join us in prayer, subscribe to our prayer newsletter:
Here are some ways you can pray for us:
Prayer Partners. We are looking for 20 committed intercessors who are gifted in prayer and who long to see the gospel transform Miami and all Latin American. I would rather have 10-20 fully engaged intercessors than 1,000 people subscribe to our prayer newsletter.
Financial Partners. We have just begun the fund raising process and have a few donors. City To City and Crossbridge Church has already pledged to match 1/3 of our support. We still need to raise $140K/year for the next five years. What we need the most is reoccurring financial partners (monthly, quarterly or yearly). My prayer is that half of our support would come from churches and the other half would come from individuals. In order for us to move to Miami by June 2017, we need to raise at least 80% of our support.
Right Place to Live in Miami. We have a good idea to where we want to move, but we still have some lingering questions. Starting this January I will begin to travel to Miami once a month for networking and training. I will get to visit our potential target area and do some more “spying out the land.” Please pray that God will give us great clarity on where we should move to in Miami.
“No church-planting movement will rise above the prayer ministry of those involved with it.” (Ott & Wilson)
As I left Peru in 2014, one of the last things I promised my good friend, Emilio, “I will be back for your wedding.” At the time, Emilio was not dating anyone. And I made my promise in faith, not knowing exactly how I would make it back to Peru. Months go by. Emilio meets Alejandra. They get engaged. We meet via skype. Then Emilio asked me the big question: “Are you coming to my wedding?”
I wanted to say yes with all my heart, however, our financial situation has had zero margin to save for plane tickets. So I had to break my promise to Emilio and declined. Then along came Patrick.
If you don’t know Patrick, he is quite the friend. While living in Peru in 2011, Patrick co-founded Nisolo, a social impact fashion label that has come alongside many Peruvians offering them friendship and honest work. Emilio and I have been with him from the beginning of Nisolo and watched it grow into a successful international business that today employees over 80 Peruvians. Patrick also has a huge heart for people. So when he caught wind that I could not afford to go to Emilio wedding in Peru, he emailed me with an idea. This is what he said,
“Emilio mentioned that you may not be able to come to his wedding… I know it would make his year if you could come, and Sally Ward (Patrick’s wife) and I, if it would help your ability to come, would love to pay for most or potentially all of your plane ticket.”
I wept after reading these words. I could not believe what I was reading. Truly this was an answer to my prayers. God enabled me to keep a promise to Emilio that I could not keep myself! Later, Patrick suggested a twist – “Let’s make it a surprise! Let’s not tell Emilio your coming.” Sounds fun to me. And that’s how we rolled.
So for the next few months, I had to find creative ways to not let Emilio know that I was coming. Thankfully, he didn’t get tipped off. On Thursday morning, October 13 this happened….
It was a dream come true only by the grace of God working through my friend Patrick! His wedding was so much fun, an actual foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
My trip to Emilio’s wedding afforded me my first trip back to Peru since our family left more than two years ago. It honestly felt like I had never left. Of course the adults were grayer (as I am) and the children were taller (as ours are); but other than that, everyone and everything felt the same. It fed my soul to reconnect with some of our closest friends in the world.
I have to admit, it was odd: going to Peru felt like leaving home and going home all at the same time. As I left my family, I was greeted by family. I was home but not yet home. What a great picture of living in the middle of Christ’s kingdom already but not yet here on earth!
It was very sad to leave my family behind, but I was glad to hear that Sandi and the girls vicariously lived through my experience. We all feel a greater sense of closure, remembering all of our wonderful friends and experiences our many years in Peru. As I boarded the plane back home, I had this sense that all that God had taught us, all the memories and experiences He gave us, we are now carrying those with us to Miami.
Peru is chapter 5 of our story. Our transition and training in Atlanta is chapter 6. So I guess that makes Miami Chapter 7. Here we come!
Which lead me to one final thought….
Our first introduction to Miami was through Emilio and his brother, Jose. We met Emilio and Jose in Peru back in 2009 after they were deported from Miami (that is a whole other fascinating God story that we don’t have space for here). As we became friends, we heard many of their stories growing up in Miami and on “the Key” (Key Biscayne).
Our friendship awoken within Sandi and me a fascination for Miami. In private, Sandi and I would say things to each other like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to live and do ministry in Miami? I can see our family doing life with people like Emilio and Jose.” It is safe to say that if we had not become friends with Emilio and Jose, we probably would have never considered Miami as a place to plant a church. God works in mysterious and crazy ways!
Miami used to be a sleepy Southern retirement community. In this tropical paradise, life was peaceful and Anglo churches flourished. Everything changed in the year 1980 when President Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro had a show down. The US Government gladly
received many professional Cubans who had fled Cuba to escape the corruptions of communism. Carter puffed up his chest and said, “See how much better America is than Cuba!” Castro called Carter’s bluff and retorted, “If you want to receive my people, let me give you some more.” So, on April 15, 1980, Castro emptied his prisons and insane asylums, put 125,000 Cubans on boats and shipped them to Miami.
Miami suddenly awoke from her slumber with hungry Latinos looking for work. Most found honest jobs while others found their way into shady business of drug trafficking. At that time cocaine was king and Miami was the pathway into North America. Colombians and Cubans began to fight for control of the drug market and Miami was their battleground. Almost overnight, Miami became the most violent city in the United States – not the ideal place to raise a family. Meanwhile a new Miami was raised up from the laundering of drug money in skyscrapers and high-rises.
Tensions continued to rise until the tempest clouds could be seen from Biscayne Bay. This was no a metaphorical storm; this was the infamous Hurricane Andrew of 1992 that decimated much of Miami. The Anglos that lost their homes had had enough with all the Español and violence. So thousands packed their bags and moved North, telling the last American to bring the flag with him on the way out. And again the city changed overnight.
Since Hurricane Andrew, Miami has become the Capitol of Latin America. It is the only city in North America that is controlled from top to bottom by Latinos. It is a young city with an undetermined future. There is no question that it is the most strategic city for reaching the future generations of Latinos in all the Americas. And this young city is ripe for the gospel of Jesus Christ!
I apologize that our communications have gone “dark” since April. The process of figuring out Miami has taken longer than expected. The past few months City-To-City has been making the transition of decentralizing from NYC, and Miami is now their hub for Latin America. We praise God that we now have clarity!
In the past few years when people asked us, “Where would you like to plant a church?” and many times we said: “Miami.” However, we didn’t have the connections from Peru to make a direct move to South Florida. So it took God moving us to Perimeter Church in Atlanta to get connected. About a year ago, my boss, Bob Cargo, convoked a meeting of key Latino leaders in the United States. It was there that I was connected to the Crossbridge team. The rest is now history.
We will stay in ATL one more year as I continue to be equipped by some of the best in church planting. Miami is a very hard city to plant a church and we will need many partners to survive. I’ll be in touch soon with more details.
We appreciate your past support amidst the many twists and turns from Peru until now. We could not have made it this far without you!
If you’d like to keep up with us, subscribe to our newsletter.
Next week Sandi & I will travel to Miami for a one-week assessment to see if we are a good fit to plant in South Florida. If you remember from our last update, we were suppose to go in early March, but they moved the assessment to April. We are very thankful for Sandi’s parents driving all the way from Louisiana to take care of our girls in ATL.
The need for gospel centered, missional churches in Miami is huge. The challenge is also immense. I’ve been told by many that South FL is a graveyard of failed church plants. That’s why we are interested in partnering with Redeemer City-To-City as well as with Perimeter Church in ATL to form a solid support network. Next week is all about whether or not our family is up for the challenge to plant in the rocky soil of Miami.
This month I (Allen) turn 40. Reaching midlife has made me reflective. I can honestly say that in the next few weeks, Sandi and I will be making one of the biggest decisions of our adult lives. Just this week, I read an article by David Brooks in the NY Times on Middle-Aged turning points. Brooks quotes the theologian Karl Barth about reaching midlife:
“The sowing is behind, now it is time to reap. The run has been taken, now it is time to leap. Preparation has been made; now it is time for the venture of the work itself.”
We truly feel that our entire life up to this point has been preparing our family for something like Miami. From all the short-term mission trips I took as a child, to living in Guatemala post-college, to raising bi-lingual daughters in a Peruvian urban city for nearly a decade – we are ready to make the leap.
So please pray for us!There are 3 requests that I’m asking God:
For clarity about the Redeemer City-To-City partnership in Miami. Are we a good fit?
For confirmation in our hearts. Is God opening or closing the door for us in Miami?
For conviction. Is God calling us to Miami in a way that if we don’t go, we will be disobedient to his will?
We covet your prayers next week as we go through assessment.And we so appreciate your friendship and interest in our family as we make this life decision!
It’s no secret that the social topography of America is rapidly changing. According to the Census Bureau, the United States will be a majority-minority nation by 2044. That means that Hispanics, African-Americans, & Asians will out number White Americans. And all to often, the church lags behind the cultural trend. Our denomination (PCA) is a prime example; we are 80% white with only 14% Korean pastors, 1.2% African-American pastors, and very few Hispanic pastors.
In Atlanta we have a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve. Perimeter has created a great laboratory to learn how to do multicultural ministry. For one, I’m part of a church planting cohort that represents every major ethnic group in America. Sam (left above) is a 2nd Gen. American Korean worship leader, Dereko is an African-American fire fighter, and Jorge is a Columbian pastor. I am so honored to develop friendships with these great guys so that I can learn from their stories, perspectives, and struggles. My stereotypes will only be broken down by forming meaningful relationships with people different than me.
Perimeter Church is also leveraging it’s resources to learn more about multicultural ministry. Recently, my boss, Bob Cargo, invited key Hispanic leaders from all across the country & abroad to discuss key issues. Leaders came from Miami, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Tijuana Mexico, Cuba, Atlanta and Birmingham. It was very enlightening as I heard about the complexity of doing Hispanic ministry among first and second generation families.
Finally, where we live helps us envision what’s to come. Our county (Gwinnett) has just recently become a majority-minority county. Over 50 languages are spoken here – one of the most diverse counties in the country. Where we are, America will become in several decades. We are truly living in the future! My hope is that God will use our cohort and context to helps us better grasp how to do ministry in a multicultural world.
Pray that God would guide our family to the right place to plant a church. We are learning to trust God as we wait for Him to lead us. For those who know us, this does not come naturally for us! In the next few months, we will be exploring some potential places to plant.
Pray for Sandi as she recovers from shingles. People of her age & good health normally don’t get shingles, but her doctor said the inevitable stress of all our transition and uncertainty has probably lowered Sandi’s immune system. We are thankful she is on the upswing and has the support from an amazing discipleship group at Perimeter who daily reminds her to rest in God’s truth.
Pray for “Rob“. I met Rob at one of our daughter’s volleyball games. After he found out that I was a pastor, he opened up and shared that he and his wife had recently separated. He believed that God had sent me to him. After sharing the gospel with him over lunch later that month, he became a born again Christian and wants to join the church. Please pray that Rob would be able to reconcile with his wife. He says she is not a believer, so please pray for her as well.
We’ve been in Atlanta for a little over two months. This is our first time to live in the suburbia. I thought that the suburbs were mainly a white-flight area, with repetitive model homes, and strip malls everywhere. Why much of that is true, what I didn’t expect to see is so much ethnic diversity.
My suburbia-stereotype was blown apart when I visited our bank last week. As I stood at the ATM, I noticed that I was the only white person among a Pakistan teller, an Afro-Caribbean family chatting in some creole dialect, a Latina señora making a deposit, and two Middle-Eastern women in hijab head-coverings. Wikipedia says that our county “is the most racially diverse county in the state of Georgia, and one of the most racially diverse counties in the country.” I thought of the suburbs as primarily white, but according to a recent study, almost 60 % of Pan-Asians, half of all Hispanics, and 40 % of African Americans live in suburbia. The cliché is half-true: “the nations have moved to the cities of America” – its probably more correct to say “to the American suburbs.”
I don’t know what all this means for our family’s future in church planting, but I’m praying that God would lead us to take advantage of this unique opportunity in American history. The need is tremendous! We’ll see where God leads.
Our biggest news this month is that we officially have our first teenager in the house. Abbie turned 13 on 9/2. I’m so grateful that God has entrusted us with such a caring, generous, missionary-minded daughter who truly loves Jesus and others. I wish I could be more like her in so many ways.
Sandi & I celebrated our 16th anniversary last month. We took the Marta Train to Decatur to enjoy a night out on the city as we reflected over our many adventures. I appreciate more every year what a special woman God has given me who continues to follow me no matter how difficult the change.
School is in full swing. The older girls love Perimeter Christian School. I’ve been impressed that they are learning much of what I learned in seminary. Their teachers truly view their job to equip our kids to enter pubic high school as gospel missionaries. Abbie & Adeline have also joined their school’s volleyball team and love it. Mary Allen is in an elementary school right down the street and has become an avid reader. And little Eva is still at home as Mom’s daily sidekick and turns five at the end of this month.
Future Church Plant. As I introduce myself at Perimeter as a Church Planting Intern, the next question is always: “So where are you going to plant?” To which I reply, “We don’t know yet.” Some follow with a question, “Where would you like to plant a church?” And I usually say, “Somewhere hot. Somewhere urban. And somewhere multicultural.” I’ve begun networking with key leaders to investigate where God might be leading us. We are anxious to find out our next steps, so please ask God to help us be patient for His timing.
Wisdom Developing Relationships. We have opportunities all around us. Many of our neighbors are unbelievers. Also, we are helping launch a new worship service at Perimeter, and we will be hosting a small group in our house. Also, our girls are in discipleship groups. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom in deepening relationships that will result in friendship that last longer than our internship.
Thank you for being our friends as we prepare for church planting.
I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a call from Perimeter Church (PCA) to be a Church Planting Intern for the next two-years!! We are now in full gear to move to Atlanta in early July.
Though we are no longer in Peru, we are still missionaries. We believe that God has called us to plant a church in the third largest mission field in the world – the good ole US of A. Our denomination fully recommended us to pursue church planting last fall, but we feel that we need more time to adjust back to the States as well as receive more training. We’ve been gone for nearly a decade and America is definitely not the same! We are missionaries transitioning between two cultures.
Perimeter Church has one of the best church planting training programs in America. They have over two decades of experience, having successfully planted 26 churches around the Metro-Atlanta as well as helped plant over 40 churches internationally. Although we are taking two more years to prepare, we’ll be light years ahead when we begin a church. After the two years, I’ll be free to plant anywhere in America. So one of the first items on the agenda this next year is to identify a target area in which to plant. Who knows, maybe we will plant a church near you!
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