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Planting a Congregation to Reach Entrepreneurs

Svetlana Papazov prepares to launch Real Life Church in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

Soon after Real Life Church launches in September at Tomahawk Middle School, the suburban Richmond, Virginia, congregation will open its Real Life Center for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Excellence.

"Through Real Life Entrepreneurial Center we will enter the life of our community and engage people long before they hear a sermon," says Lead Pastor Svetlana Papazov, who holds a doctorate of ministry in leadership from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. "We will serve our city and beyond by developing global leaders, increasing economic growth and promoting creative thinking and human dignity for all its citizens."

Papavoz, a landscape architect and her husband Michael -- who will lead worship at the new church -- started four small businesses in southwestern Illinois. Being small business owners for 13 years shaped their passion for entrepreneurs and marketplace ministry.

"We led our businesses as mission and worship to God," Svetlana says. "We gave our customers Bibles as thank you gifts when we finished landscaping their yards, prayed with those who were receptive, and discipled our employees."

During this time, she says God stirred within her a passion to awaken the church to the reality that worship is much more than a Sunday morning service.

"I felt the Lord saying to prepare people in the pews to be active outside of church," says Papazov, who went on to earn her master's degree in theology at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. "I don't know how well we practice marketplace discipleship or equip people from the pulpit to do that."

Real Life Entrepreneurial Center will be a learning laboratory that offers a collaborative environment, co-working space, and a business incubator that will help aspiring entrepreneurs to develop the skills to open their own small businesses.

The center will network with business leaders, parachurch organizations, educational institutions, and others to develop global influencers, Papazov says.

Although they originally intended to operate the entrepreneurial center and the church in the same location, such a large space turned out to be too expensive to secure on their church planting budget.

Still, the center will be nearby in Midlothian, just west of Richmond's Interstate 288 outer belt. That will be near various retail, service, and medically oriented businesses and within a five-mile radius of 80,000 people.

"If churches want to make a difference in the community, we need to do more than events," she says. "We need to stay with the community and show people that we care."

The president of Reach Northeast, an AG church planting initiative that started in Pittsburgh, says Real Life is going to be the first AG church in the nation to launch a business incubator.

"I'm all for creative thinking," says Jeff Leake, pastor of Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. "Every church needs to have a way to benefit the community. If the center can be effective, it will have an impact on people's felt needs. It's a wonderful concept."

In addition to helping entrepreneurs, Papazov hopes to develop relationships with administrators and parents at the middle school where the church will hold worship services.

Papazov, whose father Tenio Tanev is a pastor and former executive presbyter of the General Council of the Bulgaria Assemblies of God, says the church name of Real Life match's the slogan: "Doing real life with real people."

"We're reaching out to people in the real mess of life," the pastor says. "That's what Jesus did. He hung around tax collectors and business people. He was open to people who led communities. If you can reach the influencers of society, it's likely transformation will follow."

Papazov is encouraged that several families already have relocated from California, Maryland, where she served as executive pastor of Our Father's House. 


Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.