Nov 17, 2021

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Aaron & Michelle Reyes on Community Engagement

This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, church planters, Aaron and Michelle Reyes, sit down with Carey Nieuwhof to talk about their experience leading a multiethnic church. Together, they share what they are learning about fostering community through the pandemic and how church buildings can be a central place for meeting the needs of a broader neighborhood. 

On the Search for Community
During the interview, Aaron and Michelle offer an overview of the shared longing for community through the pandemic, both from those within and outside of church walls.

Within their church, they have seen single people, in particular, longing to find a place where they feel connected and known. Michelle says, “If there is any sort of church gathering, whether it’s a Sunday morning or throughout the week, [singles] are going to be there. Families, husbands, wives and kids already have that built in community, whereas singles don’t, so those are the people that we’ve seen consistently week in and week out.”

Beyond their church walls, Aaron shares, “I’ve been amazed how this desire for community has pushed some of our members to get to know their neighbors more. We’ve seen families and young couples actually building relationships with their apartment neighbors or their neighbors across the street.”

Michelle notes, “Before, maybe we’d knock on people’s doors, pray for them, and they wouldn’t be interested in talking further. Now, they’re saying, ‘Okay, when’s your next service? Are you grilling soon? Are you guys having a church meal? Can we join you?’” 

She continues, “There has been a mutual growth of our church members willing to meet new people in the community and the community being far more open to connecting with us as a church.”

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On the Role of a Church Building
Although Aaron and Michelle’s church plant gathers in a rented space, they share what having their own building would mean for the population they serve. 

“One of the things that a building in our context conveys is stability,” Aaron says. “When we first planted our church in 2014 […] for Latinos and African-Americans, it was difficult for them to conceive or interpret us as a legitimate church until we started having Sunday worship […] Latino churches and immigrant churches are used to meeting in all different spaces, but it’s not as common in the African-American church.”

He laughs, “We would say, ‘Hey, come join our core team,’ and they were like, ‘What’s a core team? What’s a small group? Tell me when you worship on Sunday.’”

This realization surprised them, as it pushed back even on some of the church planting models and literature they read in seminary. Aaron reflects, “There was this push of ‘You don’t need buildings as much. They’re not as needed. You can be in a public place’ and whatnot. But for our context, that building still […] would even further signify, ‘We’re here, we’re invested, and you have a place here.’”

On Future Innovations of the Church
Data from Barna’s recent Cities initiative found that over than half of unchurched U.S. adults (56%) expect churches to provide homeless services (shelters, soup kitchens, clothes), followed by roughly half (47%) expecting companionship for the elderly and two in five (42%) expecting counseling services.

Aaron and Michelle discuss ways they hope to continue to meet tangible community needs as a church. Aaron says, “We have dreams of […] having a building where we could utilize the building for community development and where we could have trade school training in our community.”

He continues, “We could pair an electrician, someone in construction or a contractor with a 16 year old brown or Black boy to say, ‘Hey, you can make a lot of money doing this.’ […] Schools do a great job here, but my perception of many school districts is it’s either college or bust, and there’s no vision for something other than college.”

Michelle notes, “I think a lot of multi-ethnic, multicultural churches talk about building that pipeline for leaders of color. We’ve been influenced by Latino theologian Justo Gonzalez, who says we need to rethink the pipeline and think more in terms of a sprinkler. The idea is that not every person of color is meant to do that track into secondary, higher education, but rather, how can we sprinkle people in all fields of life and in different trays and skills?”

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About the Research
Barna Cities: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 2,007 interviews with U.S. adults, ages 18 or older. The interviews were conducted online from April 23 to May 5, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.

Featured image by Polina Kuzovkova on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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