Miami: Birth, Death, and Resurrection of a Church

In 1974 Terry Gyger planted a church in the south part of Miami, Florida. The church grew and, under its third pastor, peaked at 450 people in regular worship attendance in the early ‘90s. But the seeds that would threaten the existence of the church had already been sown when, in 1978, the Mariel Boat lift brought large numbers of Cubans into Miami, accelerating the growth of Latin dominance in the city. 

By the mid to late ‘90s the demographics surrounding the church’s buildings had changed from a predominantly upper middle class Anglo to upper middle class Latino and Caribbean. Three pastors in the following 10-12 years experienced failure both because of personal issues and because of those changing demographics. 

By 2005 the leadership of the church recognized that something drastic had to happen if the church was to survive. The church was losing ten percent of their membership each year and rapidly exhausting any financial reserves. The buildings were showing signs of wear and were in need of many significant repairs.

They appealed to Redeemer Church in New York where Terry Gyger was serving as the head of an organization the church had created called the Redeemer Church Planting Center (RCPC). Though Terry himself could not become directly involved in the situation, Al Barth engaged with the leadership of the church to help them determine an action plan. 

A brutally honest analysis of the situation led to the conclusion that the church would have to be replanted. Literally, the death of the existing church would have to be brought about and a resurrected church would have to replace it. In late 2007, the church agreed to die in order that new church could be born in its place.

A search began for the “right kind of church planter/leader,” one that would be able to relate to and reach the “New Miami,” a city filled with bi-cultural people, first second, third generation Hispanics, Brazilians, Haitians, Anglos, African Americans, Europeans and increasingly Asians. In December 2008, the Lord called Felipe Assis from a successful church he had planted in Recife, Brazil to replant the church in Miami. Felipe seemed made to order for Miami. Though born in Brazil to solid believing Brazilian parents, he had spent much of his youth in the United States. He had even met and married an American and carried her back to Brazil. One of the surprises for us was that being Brazilian – therefore Latino in culture but not Hispanic - he was able to relate to and draw people from nearly every cultural group represented in Miami.

Nine months later, the church held its last worship service, filled with testimonies and memories shared among members. Two weeks later the new church was launched. Some from the old became part of the new. Some decided to go to other churches whose worship services better suited their wants and needs. 

Just before Felipe and his family arrived on the scene in Miami, the church numbered 65 adults in worship. More than 175 people attended the day of the launch. A year later average attendance is near 250 (approximately 200 adults and 50 children). People are coming to Christ. There are always seekers present. A second congregation/plant has been launched in the center of the city with another 40-50 adults. The buildings have been renewed. New ministries to the community have been started. The church is alive! No longer is it merely trying to survive. Rather it is dealing with all the problems of growth and the mess of helping non-believers come to Christ and reorder their lives. Praise God!