Florida church reaches community with creative congregations

Apopka, Florida

“The church has left the building.”

That statement, printed on Apopka Calvary Church of the Nazarene’s service project T-shirts, describes the strategy that has enabled it to plant seven churches since 2015, including several basketball churches, a soccer church, a biker church, and a Haitian church.

Pastor Ronda Rieves credits a Dynamic Church Planting International (DCPI) training for upending her idea of what qualifies as a church. The organization defines church as “anywhere people gather to worship God and study His Word.”

“If some people in Africa are gathering under trees … why not a gym or a motorcycle?” she said.

DCPI attendees were asked to dream about what God might want to do in their communities, taking into account their resources. Rieves thought of Apopka Calvary’s gym and basketball hoops and drew up a proposal for a “Hoops Church.” The senior pastor backed her plan.

Jesse Lugo, an Apopka Calvary church member, had been burdened for the neighborhood young men. When he heard Rieves’ plan, he couldn’t wait to get started.

Today, the Hoops Church follows its own liturgy: three six-minute games, followed by an hour of worship and Bible teaching, and then more basketball.

Lugo mentored a teenager, Nicholas Jaimes, who attended Hoops Church for several years. After the teen gave his life to Christ, he dreamed of reaching young, Hispanic men in the neighborhood through soccer. Church leadership supported him in kicking off “Futsal Church.” In one of its first services, all of the 38 youth in attendance gave their lives to Christ. The young man mentored five more leaders and, when he left for college, the team of young men took over Futsal Church, fostering further growth.

Although the Hoops and Futsal churches were primarily geared toward young men, eventually their wives, girlfriends, and children started coming. So the Hoops Church organized exercise classes with a devotional for the women and a VBS-style program for the kids.

Apopka Calvary’s Hispanic church plant shares the other churches’ “planting DNA.” It is now partnering with Nazarenes in Cuba to plant more Nazarene churches there. The Haitian church has also planted a church in the Dominican Republic that has over 200 members.

“When you have the DNA and passion and energy for planting churches, people who want to plant churches are drawn to you,” Rieves said. “There is almost no church we wouldn’t start.”

That’s why a pastor who plants biker churches asked the leadership if they would partner in planting a biker church in the area. Now, the biker pastor has been invited to preach monthly in a biker club, and leaders from the Apopka Calvary have an open invitation to biker events.

“We participate in Bike Week, Biketoberfest, and other biker events,” Rieves said. “We set up tents and tables, pray with them, and give Bibles and other encouraging materials to help them choose real life...a Harley-Davidson dealer now gives us free vendor space and has invited us to have worship and preach on Sunday mornings at Biketoberfest.”

Other church plants in the works include a Caribbean church, a Millennial church, a boxing church, a house church, and a traditional church.

“We set a goal to launch 10 churches in 10 years,” Rieves said. “Now I am thinking that this goal was far too small.”

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