Latin America

Latin America conference focuses on church planting and emerging house church models

Nearly 100 church leaders from 15 countries in Latin America, and the Latin diaspora in Spain and the United States, recently attended “Paulatinamente: First Intercontinental Encounter of Church Planting and Leadership Development.” This conference was organized by BILD’s Latin America Global Resource Team and hosted by our partner, Red Bendición church network in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to promote emerging house-church planting models and catalyze church-planting movements.

The event was strategic for those who attended as the Latin America Global Resource Team (GRT) continues to strengthen partnerships with church leaders and church planters. GRT leaders Javier Valesquez, Julio Lugo, and Felix Abreu are directly connected to these leaders as they continue to train and equip these leaders in biblical principles. As these leaders mature in their faith, the GRT’s goal is to build a complex network of churches throughout Latin America that follows the New Testament model of establishing churches and networks.

Holding the conference in Santo Domingo was also strategic as these leaders were able to see firsthand the Red Bendición network of house churches that is led by Felix Abreu. The GRT considers Red Bendición a complete picture of what a New Testament church network looks like.

As the leaders had the opportunity to see and participate in these house churches during the conference, they were better able to see how they could replicate these biblical concepts of a church network within their own contexts.

With about 40 house churches spread across the Dominican Republic and Santo Domingo, Red Bendición illustrates how the churches in the book of Acts participated in Christ’s plan, from the training of its top leaders and elders to making sure every believer within the church is on a development path of spiritual maturity. The churches are fully engaged as they gather together each week as a family of families, sharing a meal, and using their spiritual gifts to build up the church body. They meet needs within their own churches and the community around them. Felix has trained leaders to lead these churches, who in turn are training emerging leaders and all believers down to the youngest church members.

During the conference, the families of Red Bendición opened their homes as they hosted visiting church leaders, preparing meals for the conference and practicing hospitality. Felix said this was very intentional because as a network it is clear to them they are a part of a larger, global family. 

Julio shared that the experience in Santo Domingo allowed visiting leaders to progress from the theory of what they are learning in their biblical training to the reality of practicing it. “Seeing that it is possible to establish a network model that goes from city churches to complex networks was developed in their minds,” he said.

One example of this progression could be seen in the growing understanding of the structure of leadership within the church as it relates to the entire network, compared to the traditional church model where one main pastor leads everything. Javier shared that visiting leaders who attended the house churches saw this structure of leadership from those who led and shepherded the families within the house churches to the encompassing leadership Felix has over the whole of Red Bendición and even other leaders outside the Dominican Republic. Javier said these leaders had first asked where Felix was, and then came to understand that Felix does not have to be present within each house church, but that Felix has entrusted that leadership to others, just as the Apostle Paul entrusted leaders and elders in the churches he planted and established.

Javier said this new understanding of the leadership structure within the church was key for those who had read about it in their leadership training materials but had never experienced it. “For them to see it and see that it really works was really powerful,” Javier said.

While many of the leaders who attended the conference in Santo Domingo are at different stages of understanding and development, the GRT is hopeful that the conference will serve as a catalyst for the next stage of growth in Latin America and in multiplying more churches that are modeled after the patterns established in the New Testament. The event served as a direct call to push network church leaders and church planters in that direction.

Another factor that provided the motivation to continue moving toward building a network of churches was actually being together and putting names to faces only previously seen in online cohorts. Relationships are very important in Latin American culture, Javier said, so meeting in person brought everyone closer. “Being able to be together was strategic as we continue to expand,” he said. “It’s not just about concepts and resources, it’s really about relationships and the way that we can, in a real sense, not just be a family, but a civilization family.”

The different experiences and burdens that were shared during conference workshops added another layer to developing relationships. Javier said he, Julio, and Felix have had conversations about how they can strengthen the organic aspect of who they are as a network and the relationships within it, and the discussions during the workshops provided the opportunity to communicate full concepts and solutions on a practical level rather than in fragmented ideas.

“We have been able to bring the pieces together and create a coherent idea to communicate and equip leaders,” Javier said. He spoke specifically about one discussion that examined the process of establishing people from the cradle to the grave and giving leaders a framework within which to work as they take people through BILD resources such as The First Principles Series, helping them become established in New Testament principles and see how they relate to the church as a family.

“The conference has generated for us not only the need of bringing together specific people to answer questions, but to help us mature in the process because they are answering from experience. We will continue to build on that and come alongside leaders to coach people according to their needs, but in a very holistic way,” he said. He also said that the GRT will be developing resources that are contextualized to their specific civilization because Latin American culture differs from the United States.

The level of commitment from the leaders who attended the conference and shared these experiences together showed the GRT that they all have matured in the process. “It also showed me that through all the hours and by God’s grace, that we have been, as a GRT team, gradually producing fruit in people’s lives, churches, and networks. So for that we are really, really grateful,” Javier said.

The conference left Julio, Javier, and Felix encouraged and looking forward to next year when a conference is planned in Ecuador where a second church network model is in development where a traditional church is moving toward a network model of 30-35 house churches. The GRT is following up with leaders who attended this year’s conference and will continue developing and equipping these leaders to implement the biblical ideas and principles in their contexts.

“Our experience inspires others,” Felix said. “We are continuing to shape our network of networks in Latin America, and it’s a strategic time to organize and work with the whole of the network in Latin America and Spain.”

The experience in Santo Domingo helped show the team they are entering a new stage of development. “We now have a real sense of a movement,” Julio said. “It strengthens our (GRT) commitment, our relationship. It strengthens our mission, and also our passion. It makes me remember Paul saying, ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.’ (1 Cor 3:6) Basically, it is good to see that God has blessed us, and God has blessed us in this amazing way. Praise the Lord for that.”