25 January 2021
Reflections from Brazil: Church in the mall
Carolyn Lawrence visited the Methodist Church in Brazil in early 2020. In a series of reflections, Carolyn shares some of her learnings from the visit:
The shopping mall could have been anywhere in the world! Not the kind of location I would usually expect to take part in worship, unless it was at the idol of consumerism! On our way to the church service we walked through the food court where hundreds of families were enjoying their Sunday afternoon outing. Within this mall, in a small theatre, Pastors Max and Jessica Maia planted a Methodist congregation with just six people and a year later the church has around 50 people of all ages attending worship. The congregation is a mixture of new Christians and some people from other churches and continues to steadily grow. This church places an emphasis on the whole family and they advertise events and services using social media. It’s an amazing example of new churches in new places and of taking the church out to where the people are.
Pastors Max and Jessica Maia
Bishop Fabio Cosme oversees the church planting in the Amazonia region and in the light of my visit to the ‘Church in the Mall’ I asked him what he would say to people in the UK who want to grow their churches. What in his opinion are the keys to growth?
Bishop Fabio believes that one of the key strategies for church growth is standing on God’s word – leaders need to fill their hearts and minds with the word of God and go back to believing the power of the Bible. He said that theology and belief are two different things and believes that the whole church need to read the whole Bible with the eyes of faith.
In relation to the Church in the Mall he also explained that the Pastors, Max and Jessica are consistently present leading the worship every week. Even when they have been on a boat mission one or the other is always back for the Sunday. He believes this continuity in preaching and pastoral care is vital for growth. He used the illustration of shepherds who live with the sheep and in time begin to smell like them! He believes that pastors need to have the smell of the sheep to get close to them and that is achieved by close pastoral contact and consistent leadership in worship. He also explained that in Brazil, it is normal for couples to work in leadership together and believes that there is a strength in that way of operating.
Another key to growth is prayer and in the Brazilian Methodist Church prayer undergirds everything that is done. He told us the story of leaders of empty churches going into their buildings to pray and anointing the empty seats prophesying that one day they would be full.
Other keys to growth cited by Bishop Fabio were the emphasis on the whole family, the use of cell groups for pastoral care, discipleship and evangelism, the use of social media to reach people in new ways, the importance of 1-1 mentoring and discipleship, home visitation and using food at any and every opportunity!
Bishop Fabio believes that it is crucial for communities to find what will draw people to Jesus in their culture – what works in one country, town or village doesn’t necessarily work somewhere else. He gave an example that in Brazil everyone knows about coffee as it is a huge part of their culture. No-one is surprised if people talk about coffee. Similarly, in Brazil, with its long Christian heritage, no-one is surprised if you talk about Jesus. However, if there is one coffee place that is really good and people experience that they will share that news with others. In the same way, people in Brazil need to experience Jesus and to hear testimony about how Jesus has changed lives.
Finally, the Bishop reminded us that growth is not instant but is a process and that the church in Brazil have learned their growth strategy from Jesus – living a life of intimacy with God and allowing the love of God to reach others in building relationships. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Brazil as we seek growth in our own churches in the UK.
Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, 2020-21.
Read Carolyn's other reflections here: