Should we close the church or revive it?
By Lindsay Peyton
Revive! is the new name selected for the transformation of the church formerly known as First UMC Pasadena. “It’s a verb,” Pastor Arturo “Artie” Cadar explained. Revive! is all about bringing new life to the congregation and the community that surrounds it. The church’s new name also speaks to the restorative power of Christ.
“A multicultural church for a new beginning in Jesus” is the mission statement of Revive! The initiative at Revive! is one of planting a new church in an established location.
Cadar explained that First UMC Pasadena had once been a popular house of worship in the area, drawing about 1,200 area residents to the pews on Sundays in the 1990s. Lately, however, sustaining the growth of the 1990s became a challenge for the congregation.
The church was considering closing, but Bishop Scott J. Jones was convinced there was another way. He brainstormed other possibilities with the Texas Annual Conference Cabinet. That’s when Cadar, who was then the TAC’s Coordinator of Mission Field Development, felt called to be part of the solution. “I raised my hand and expressed my interest in being part of something new at First Pasadena.”
Cadar knew firsthand how to grow and develop a more multi-cultural church, and that seemed to be exactly what First UMC Pasadena wanted and needed to survive.
When Cadar served as Associate Pastor at Friendswood UMC, he and another Hispanic couple from Friendswood UMC started a Spanish worship service. That service eventually gave birth to ChristWay Community Church where 150 people from 24 different nationalities worshiped together for three years. Then, the congregation merged with Cokesbury UMC to create a new church, CrossRoads UMC, a multicultural congregation that continues to thrive in the Sagemont area of Houston.
Cadar’s experience as a pastor, building a church that truly reflected its diverse surrounding community, prepared him for a post at First UMC Pasadena. “I think I was called to do this” he said. “Being bilingual and bicultural is critical in the task of planting a multicultural church”
Bishop Jones and District Superintendent Dr. Rev. Vincent Harris agreed. Discussions about the change began in September, and Cadar was appointed to the church Nov. 1.
Before he took the helm, he hosted a number of listening sessions with the existing community of First Pasadena UMC. “I wanted to hear from people about where they were and how they felt,” he explained. “Would the people here stay?”
Cadar learned that, in fact, the majority would. Members worked hard in the past to achieve additional growth. They served and loved the community around them in many ways. They really wanted to revitalize their church, engage neighbors and better reflect their community, but sustaining relationships with a different culture became a challenge.
Changing the church leadership to showcase diversity was an important first step. Cadar is the first Hispanic Lead Pastor for the congregation. He also brought in Associate Pastor Roig Calzadilla to lead the Hispanic church.
“When you don’t speak the language or know the culture, it’s really hard to reach out,” Cadar said. “That’s why we’re here. Pastor Roig and I, and the resilient people of First Pasadena, are working together to fill the gap.”
On Jan. 17, the two pastors presented a new strategy to the church. The name change is just the first step of six to move forward.
Each step begins with “R.” First, the congregation wants to “Retain,” and keep its current members. “We don’t want to lose the people who are here, because they are the ones who have sustained the church through the years” Cadar said. “They play a key role in our vision, and we need them”
At the same time, they are charged with “Reach,” attracting new members from the community, and “Refresh,” updating the campus to make it more visible. “Retrain” is a call to think differently and work in news ways to serve neighbors.
“Regroup” is one of the other essential strategies, Cadar explained. Ministry teams have been absent from the church for some years. “We’re bringing them back,” he said.
New ministry teams are being formed in the areas of worship, discipleship, prayer, outreach, relationship building, service, generosity, children youth and communication.
In addition to creating this game plan moving forward, the church will soon be entering a new worship service schedule. Now there will be a traditional service at 8:30 a.m., a contemporary at 10 a.m., and a Spanish service at 11:30 a.m. The Hispanic community met at the church but in a separate venue from the sanctuary and later in the afternoon. “It didn’t give the Hispanic service equity,” Cadar said.
About 70 percent of his mission field is Hispanic and 60 percent of the population is under 37-years old. Changing the times and approach of the services will make worship more accessible for younger families, Cadar said.
Once a quarter, Revive! will offer a bilingual, blended service. The first occasion was Easter Sunday and was successful. “We had a very good crowd,” Cadar said.
Calzadilla is in charge of building the Hispanic ministry. Prior to this appointment, he pastored at Servants of Christ in Houston.
“In October, I got a call from Pastor Artie, inviting me to this church,” Calzadilla recalled. “I love the mission, and I love the vision.”
While he jumped at the opportunity, he was aware of the hurdles ahead. “I knew this is a big challenge – to revive a church and engage the community,” he said. “Still, I was confident that the Lord was with us.”
Calzadilla started on Jan. 1, with 30 people in the pews of the Hispanic service. Now four months have passed, and that number has doubled.
“Every Sunday, we see new families, and they stay with us,” Calzadilla said. “We’re just starting, but we’re excited about the future. We know that we need to keep working, because we expect a big crowd one day.”
Already, he and a team of Hispanic leaders have been knocking on doors at area apartments, praying with the residents and inviting them to the church. Last week, they hosted a mobile vaccination clinic on campus. Soon, they will partner with the Mexican Consulate of Houston to conduct a program called the “Consulate on Wheels” Revive! will host a team from the Mexican Consulate who will work on-site to issue or renew passports, ID cards and birth certificates for Mexican citizens living and working in the Houston area, as well as other parts of Texas and the U.S.
“We have many, many ideas,” Calzadilla said. “We want the community to know we are still there. In my opinion, it’s the best way to preach the Gospel, not with words but by deeds.”
Developing a strong multicultural presence and welcoming a diverse community is imperative, Cadar said. He hopes to grow worship attendance from 150 now to 300 by the end of the year. His goal is to have 500 members by 2023 and 1,000 by 2025.
“I’ve always been told when you get to a church, don’t make changes in the first year,” Cadar said. “In the world we live in today, I don’t know if that applies anymore.”
After all, the church was eager for change, to restore and revive. Cadar, Calzadilla and the congregation are simply leading the way forward. “We don’t want to focus on the past. We want to focus on the present and future,” the pastor said.
Already, church leadership has appointed a new bilingual children’s director and is bringing in a bilingual youth director, working in partnership with the Center for Youth Ministry Training.
Still, Cadar admitted that building more diversity at the church will take time. “Change does not happen overnight,” he said. “But we’re going to keep chipping away at it.”
In the current climate of division, the church should be a place where the community unites, Cadar said. “Now, more than ever, the church needs to be intentional about reaching out to the community,” he said.
That will require the right pastors for the job. Cadar said more diverse pastors should be recruited in the Texas Annual Conference. “If you don’t have a big pool of bicultural, bilingual, diverse pastors, it’s tough,” he said.
Cadar is confident that the Lord brought Calzadilla and him to Revive! to spark a new beginning.
“One of the mistakes mainstream churches have made over the years, in all denominations, is that their focus has been internal,” he explained. Instead, we want to create programs with a more outward focus – and that always results in greater outreach, and sustained growth. “The decisions we’re making are strongly driven by what the community around us wants and needs,” he said.