Published February 19, 2015
DACULA — Samuel Ayala arrives at Hebron Español barely on time and is late most Sundays. Most would agree that his punctuality is a bit abnormal for a pastor. But the praise team knows not to wait on him. They want him to drive safely from Winder after he preaches at Iglesia Viva Christiana and helps break down their temporary worship center.
Ayala is a church planting catalyst on the run. With two and soon three new Hispanic church plants currently in process, “passion and fire” fuel the entrepreneurial spirit he brings to Georgia Baptist missions.
Getting here was almost as hard as starting these new churches. The Puerto Rican had explored three church-ministry opportunities in Georgia before moving his family here from the Caribbean. Upon arrival, each opportunity fell through.
Ayala had studied church planting and multiplication in Puerto Rico. Despite the disappointments upon arrival, he felt called to Gwinnett County to plant churches. So he started a house church. When that gathering grew, he sought commercial space for their meetings.
A real estate agent introduced Ayala to his Southern Baptist pastor who in turned started making connections with other Baptist leaders at the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC), the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association (GMBA).
“When I started I was alone,” Ayala said. “Doing church planting without the support of an association is very uphill and lonely. But once you are with an association (local, state, and national support), there is so much networking and resourcing.”
Hispanic church planting needs
Statewide, Hispanics represent 9% of Georgia’s population according to Pew Research, or about 880,000 people. Twelve percent of the K-12 student population in Georgia is Hispanic. The median age of Hispanics is 25. Forty-one percent of Hispanics ages 17 and younger live in poverty.
GBC state missionary Moses Valdes consults with Hispanic churches. He said that Georgia currently has 111 Hispanic congregations.
“My experience tells me that the small churches are the ones growing fastest and by which Hispanics are reached more effectively with the Gospel,” said Valdes, who attributes his observation to Hispanic culture and their value of personal relationships.
In Gwinnett County, Ayala estimates that Lawrenceville is 22% Hispanic, 19% of which are not Christians. His next church plant will be there.
He projects that the county needs up to eight new Hispanic churches today. To meet the needs of first-generation Hispanics, Gwinnett County eventually needs an additional 25 churches, he said. Meanwhile, to reach second-generation Hispanics (bilingual and culturally assimilated), Ayala estimated the county needs 50-75 churches.
“Hispanics in Georgia do not need PhDs in evangelism, just people who have had new birth in Christ like Sam and his wife, Luz, have experienced, and who are willing to share and disciple others,” Valdes said.
Learning about CP
Georgia Baptist’s cooperative-missions method met Ayala’s enthusiasm at a critical time for his family. The encouragement and training support from Valdes and the GMBA coupled with the GBC and NAMB’s Send Atlanta financial assistance now help to sustain his family. He also serves part-time as an associate pastor at Hebron Baptist Church and leads Hebron Español. His wife, Luz, works at the GBC in Intercultural Church Planting and Missions Ministries.
Most of what Ayala has learned about the Cooperative Program (CP) has come from what he has experienced since coming to Georgia by faith. CP provided a safety net for his calling to church planting and multiplication.
The entrepreneurial church planter will continue running fast and hard to start churches with a goal of ten within five years. That growth is dependent upon identifying leaders within each church plant who show potential and a calling to be a pastor, a process that Ayala is committed to guide.
With each church becoming a “multiplier,” his vision is for new Hispanic churches not just in Gwinnett County, but also eventually across North America.
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming.
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