At first, the question came from a pastor in Georgia, who was looking ahead to retirement and wanted his ten-year-old church plant to be part of a family of churches: Could his church be part of the Reformed Church in America?
That lone question was soon asked by dozens of other churches. In 2018 and 2019, the Reformed Church in America’s Church Multiplication team had about 50 similar conversations with pastors of church plants, some brand new and some a few years old, as well as with pastors of some long-established churches, all primarily in Florida and Georgia. Most of the church planters are Spanish speakers.
“Planters are here from Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia,” says Randy Weener, director of Church Multiplication. “They’re coming to us as independent planters, saying, ‘We love your theology, we love your vision, we want to be part of something bigger.’”
With the increase in inquiries, Church Multiplication began developing an adoption process for churches. At the same time, the Regional Synod of Mid-America considered resurrecting the former Florida classis, which closed about a decade ago. (The remaining Florida churches were absorbed into what has been known as the Illiana-Florida Classis.)
Instead of reviving the old classis, those Florida churches, together with about a dozen Hispanic-speaking church plants, are now the anchor churches for a new classis, which officially launched in April. About 35 more new congregation plans and church adoptions are in the pipeline, ready to be brought into the RCA through this new classis. The classis’s Spanish name reflects its primarily Hispanic composition.
“Our vision [as a classis] is to plant 100 churches in 20 years, and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” says Chad Farrand, vision leader and classis executive. “Every week, there are new reports of people coming to faith. There’s not a month without baptisms. A lot of young people are coming. This is growth of the kingdom.”
“This easily could be the largest classis in the shortest span of time,” adds Weener. “It’s a gift of God. We can’t take credit for it. We’re responding to the blessings.”
This is el Classis de las Naciones.
Finding a home in the RCA
Most church planters connected to this new classis chose the Reformed Church in America (RCA) for its theology, including Fredy Gutierrez, who serves on the executive care team for el Classis de las Naciones. Gutierrez is one of eleven pastors who was commissioned in March; two ministers of Word and sacrament were also ordained at that time.
“I have been in ministry for over 25 years, most of the time as an overseas missionary working independently and non-denominationally.
“When I was introduced to the RCA, my first reaction was, ‘Where have you been all my life?’” he says. “I was pretty much Reformed and practicing the sacraments according to the RCA, but I was not aware of the denomination’s Reformed doctrine. I feel myself identify and align with the Reformed doctrine.”
The rationale is similar for Sebastian Gimenez, pastor of Montreal Church in Miami, Florida. His exposure to the Reformed tradition and its emphasis on Scripture has given him a new perspective from that of his Pentecostal background, he says. He values the history and the preservation of the gospel that is found in the denomination.
But it’s not just the theology that’s attractive. These churches also benefit from the training and support they receive by belonging to the Reformed Church in America.
“Joining the RCA has sort of helped us get our act together,” says Ryan McBride, planter and pastor of 12 Springs Church in Sarasota, Florida, which ordained its first elders and deacons in March and plans to organize this year. “We liked the theology and structure, and we’re learning the language like [the word] classis. But we’re not changing what we’re doing. We want to be a church-planting church. That’s what drew us into the RCA—running into people who also think that way. We feel more supported and have more places to turn.”
Planting churches that will plant more churches is a common theme within el Classis de las Naciones. In fact, most of the pastors who have landed in southern Florida have already planted churches in their home countries. Now, they’re bringing that expertise to the denomination.
“We’re learning from brothers and sisters from other cultures in a North American context—different patterns of worship, the way they express themselves through giving and serving,” says Farrand, who is in the process of learning Spanish and Portuguese. “We have English translations of [resources] coming to us so we can learn how [the planters] make disciples in their contexts, and then we can apply those.
“To see cultures bridge together into one family has been incredible,” he says. “Everyone is together with one vision, one goal, one team.”
“To work in unity [is exciting],” adds Gimenez. “There’s consolation in the work and strength in this team. … This is part of Jesus’s commission to the church. There is need for churches that proclaim the truth of the gospel.”
To the ends of the earth
The bridging of cultures will only continue as international church planters bring the Reformed Church in America back into their home countries.
“[RCA Church Multiplication] partners with people who are indigenous; we don’t go into any country without a good guide who is connected and knows the culture,” says Weener. “These are [now] our own people bringing us to their own countries and helping us plant churches there.”
For Church Multiplication and RCA Global Mission, that kind of church-planting partnership is already happening in the Dominican Republic, Nepal, and Costa Rica. Now, with planters from many more Central and South American countries, more opportunities for global church planting are springing up. And self-propagating church plants make it possible to reach many more people, both in Florida and internationally.
But it’s not about planting churches for its own sake; it’s about the people, the disciples, and the growing body of Christ.
“This is my calling,” says Gutierrez. “There is nothing like knowing that you are in the perfect will of God. This classis surrounds that—the perfect will of God. I’m excited and humbled to be a part of what God is about to do.”
This article was also published in RCA Today, the Reformed Church in America’s denominational magazine.
Ask God to help el Classis de las Naciones get off to a strong start. Pray that through its churches, many people would come to know the love of Jesus.