Reading over grant applications from CRC church planters is always a joy for those of us on the church planting team here at Resonate Global Mission -- it is inspiring to see how these church planters are leading their congregations to love God and love their neighbors in creative and practical ways. To share a glimpse of how one church plant is doing this and to perhaps spark your own creativity, let me tell you about a recent event hosted by Iglesia Sunlight Español, a Resonate partner church plant in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Pastor Juan Sierra planted Sunlight Español in 2016 as a multi-site of Sunlight Community Church, and over the past couple years, the church plant has applied for a number of grants to help them engage their community through hosting events and celebrations. This spring, Juan started working on an idea for a Health & Community Services Fair (Feria de Salud y Servicios Comunitarios). A few people from the congregation were excited about the idea and wanted to join in the planning. Juan submitted a grant application to Resonate, and the planning team started reaching out to contacts in the community. Before long, they had 30 organizations who wanted to be a part of this fair, and some who even wanted to contribute financially. As Juan said, it can’t hurt to ask!
The idea for the fair was sparked by needs that Sunlight Español sees in their community. Juan describes how Latinos make up 20% of the population of Port St. Lucie, but how they are not necessarily aware of services that are available to them or can’t easily access these services. With these needs in mind, the fair gathered resources in one place: there were booths from a bank, city and county services, lawyers, the local college, and non-profits in areas such as health, nutrition, foster care, adoption, and more. Everyone brought Spanish-language materials or had a bilingual representative staffing the booth. Sunlight Español provided free hot dogs, hamburgers, and popcorn, and they also had a booth with information about the church and a bucket where people could drop in prayer requests. About 200-250 people came to the fair, engaged with the various vendors, asked questions, and received helpful resources.
Part of the reason it worked, Juan says, is that it wasn’t specifically a “religious event.” People didn’t feel like they had to keep their guard up or that they would be pressured to convert. Organizations were happy to participate because it was an opportunity to share information about their services to the local community. And while the event was not specifically religious, many church members volunteered, including the youth. Juan designed t-shirts for the volunteers with the symbols ✝>˄˅ on the front -- in other words, “the cross is greater than our ups and downs.” He had wanted to use a design that would spark questions, and sure enough, many attendees wondered what it meant and started conversations with the volunteers, who were then able to share about their faith in a natural way.
Juan admits that the event took a lot of work and planning. At the end of the day, though, he describes how much of a blessing it was to see community members coming into the church for the fair. The congregation was able to make some great connections with community partners as well. Many people, both attendees and those from the organizations who participated, hadn’t realized the church was there. The next day, several families from the fair came to the Sunday service for the first time.
Now that the event is finished, the church is following up with participants as well as planning their next community event, an annual Hispanic Heritage month celebration that they began in 2016. They hope to partner again with some of the organizations who participated in the fair, and once again it will be an opportunity to connect with their community.