One of the greatest gifts Colorado Baptists has given to me and to the church I pastor is the Next Steps process. In the Spring of 2019, the pastors and other leaders of Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church (MABC) walked through the Next Steps process. Through this process we were given the gift of clarity. This clarity is why our church has taken significant steps forward in reaching our community with the good news of the gospel. It is also why we are now one church that speaks two languages, the Avenue Church and Iglesia Avenida. What follows is our story.
The timing for this gift of clarity was perfect. Little did we know that only about nine months after launching our Next Steps informed vision we would be thrown into the chaos of a global pandemic. Clarity of vision provided exactly what we needed to emerge stronger from the COVID pandemic.
Through the Next Steps process, our vision became to develop a burden for our community as a catalyst to gospel conversations. While we were a church that was passionate about missions and the need to share the gospel, we did not have much of a burden for our community. From the fall of 2019, to today, I have stated, restated, and further restated the need for each member of MABC to develop a burden for the lost. We now have a greater burden today than ever before, but that change didn’t happen overnight.
Through the Next Steps process, our vision became to develop a burden for our community as a catalyst to gospel conversations.
“Clarity,” as Will Mancini says, “isn’t everything, but it changes everything.” There were things about Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church that needed to change to reach our neighborhood. The clarity of our Next Steps vision, along with the opportunities to change afforded by the chaos of the pandemic, allowed us to change what needed to be changed in order to better reach our community.
Just like many other established churches MABC struggled to engage the community. This lack of engagement meant that we were struggling to reach our neighborhood with the good news. Then, over the history of MABC, our neighborhood changed, making engagement more and more difficult.
When the church was founded in October 1972, our neighborhood needed a traditional church. The church thrived in reaching our neighborhood. We had three different periods of significant growth in our history. Especially at the turn of the century, MABC was experiencing its hey-day in numerical growth in attendance and programing.
At the same time, our city, Aurora, was significantly growing in population. That growth continues to this day as Aurora is constantly growing bigger and bigger in population and land mass as more and more neighborhoods are developed on the east part of town. We like to joke that Aurora goes all the way to Kansas.
The clarity of our Next Steps vision, along with the opportunities to change afforded by the chaos of the pandemic, allowed us to change what needed to be changed in order to better reach our community.
While our building is in the Aurora Hills Neighborhood, the adjacent neighborhood to our east is called City Center. This name is now rather ironic as it is no longer anywhere near the center of Aurora as the city continues to grow east. Along with this growth in population and size came a growth in diversity.
As Aurora grew and as our neighborhood, Aurora Hills, became more and more diverse, past leadership of MABC explored moving our campus east. They saw the writing on the wall and advocated a move to the east or southeast of town. While there is wisdom in this approach, the congregation of MABC resoundingly voted to not move. With that refusal, the church needed to adapt, before it was too late to reach our diverse community.
In Aurora Public Schools there are students from more than 130 countries of origin and more than 160 different languages spoken. I am certain that the International Mission Board has missionaries in all 130 of those countries who speak those 160 languages. At the same time, God, in his sovereignty brought the nations to Aurora, Colorado. MABC needed to change to do our part to reach just a small fraction of those languages. All we needed was to reach an inflection point to prompt that change.
The catalyst for this change was MABC’s 50th Anniversary in October of 2022. Or to be more accurate, the catalyst was the development of how the church was going to celebrate our 50th anniversary. While I wanted to celebrate all that God had done over the last fifty years of ministry, I also led our team to consider what our church needed to do to celebrate our 100th anniversary.
A church that focuses on the past, and not on the future, might as well go out and purchase a tombstone.
My fear was that we would sit on our laurels with necks turned to the past instead of planning ahead. A church that focuses on the past, and not on the future, might as well go out and purchase a tombstone. While I can’t guarantee that the Avenue Church will celebrate a 100th anniversary, I wanted to make sure that in celebrating our 50th Anniversary, we would do everything we can to see God at work in and through our church over the next many years.
So, we formed a committee. Because we are Baptists. Starting in November of 2021, our 50th Anniversary committee began to meet. Plans formed to revamp our ministry to those in the military at Buckley Space Force Base, and to start something new to reach our community. This something new was to become one church in two languages. However, to accomplish this task, the church needed a lot of convincing.
First, I needed to convince the deacons. Next, the leadership. Last, the congregation. All of this was made easier because of our vision to develop a burden for our community. The undercurrent in all the needed change was the clarity of vision.
Our people demonstrated a burden for our community when they voted to start the ministry and to change the name of Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church to the Avenue Church. We decided to change the name of our church because when Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church is translated into another language, it can grow even longer. While it might seem minor to some, this was a sacrifice our church members made due to their burden for our community.
We first targeted the Spanish community because there is a significant portion of the population of our neighborhood who speaks Spanish in the home. We were not able to reach them simply because we did not have services in Spanish.
This vote happened in May of 2022, as our church voted overwhelmingly to start a ministry to reach Spanish speakers. We first targeted the Spanish community because there is a significant portion of the population of our neighborhood who speaks Spanish in the home. We were not able to reach them simply because we did not have services in Spanish.
As we were working on the logistics of becoming one church in two languages, God sent a pastor to our church through the North American Mission Board. Pastor Jose’ Quesada was already ministering in Aurora but felt the calling from God to start Iglesia Avenida. He has been the perfect answer to our prayers with a burden of his own to reach our community.
Iglesia Avenida started to meet in February of this year. We have had three combined worship services in English and in Spanish during our 11 AM service. In these services we have seen fifteen Latinos join our church through believer’s baptism. Over forty other Latinos joined our church as they transferred their membership via letter from sister SBC churches. God is at work.
There are moments of awkwardness like when I get to put my rusty Texican Spanish into use. The church had a good laugh when I could not remember the word for “utensils” in Spanish as I gave instructions for a lunch fellowship after our combined service. I still don’t remember the word.
What if God could use your leadership and your facility to reach an unreached group in your community?
On the other hand, we get to experience a small taste of what Heaven is like – especially when we get to enjoy homemade tamales at our lunch fellowships. We share pastors, leaders, members, resources, a building, and a burden to reach our neighborhood with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Today, we are the Avenue Church and Iglesia Avenida. We are one church in two languages…for now. Perhaps soon the Lord will lead us to become one church in three languages and beyond.
My hope and prayer is that you will consider partnering with whatever language group dominates your neighborhood. While our journey over the last few months has had bumps, it has been incredibly rewarding as we reach people with the gospel and see them baptized in numbers we haven’t seen since well before COVID.
What if God was calling your church to become one church with two languages? What if God could use your leadership and your facility to reach an unreached group in your community? Why not start praying about that today?