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Growing from Within

A changing neighborhood provides new leaders for ethnically diverse congregations.

Pastor Doug R. Banks drove through Evergreen Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, amazed at the transformed community. A predominately white population when Banks served there as an associate pastor at Maranatha Chapel in the mid-1970s, in the years since the community’s demographics had blended, with the addition of Hispanics, Arabs, Africans, and Eastern Europeans.

He knew exactly what God wanted him to do. A former Assemblies of God world missionary to Mexico, Banks appeared before the 300 congregants of Maranatha Chapel the following Sunday to candidate for their senior pastor position and informed members if they gave him the opportunity, he would lead the church to reflect the community.

“I challenged the people to think about the sea of color surrounding our neighborhood,” Banks says. “Whatever language we hear and culture we see at the grocery store or the restaurant or the PTA — why wouldn’t we hear and see that in the local church?”

Banks, also an AG Illinois District executive presbyter, says Christians aren’t called to reach just one language or color group, but to engage with everyone who is a part of the community.

The congregation agreed, and now 18 years after Banks returned to the area, Maranatha Chapel has birthed four distinct congregations, including Hispanic, Arab, African, and Messianic Jewish.

Familiar with the language and culture, Banks initially started a Spanish-speaking ministry. He identified a few strong Hispanic lay leaders who already attended Maranatha, imparted the vision for the new ministry, developed their leadership skills, and mentored them. The ministry welcomed 12 people to the first service. Within a dozen years, it averaged 120 people.

Within a year of starting the Spanish-speaking ministry, Banks set his prayers on the Arab community. That’s when two brothers and businessmen, Nader and Ghaleb Kawar, showed up, wanting to start an Arab congregation. They began attending Maranatha and soon took on leadership roles, became ordained, and reached out to people from their culture. Nader and his wife, Rania, who is also ordained, now lead this congregation of 60.

“Pastor Banks’s vision is clear,” Nader Kawar says. “We have one message that we present in many different languages. It draws people.”

As those ministries thrived, Maranatha then birthed the Messianic Jewish and African ministries. And then almost three years ago as the Spanish-language ministry continued to grow, adherents wanted to become an independent congregation, and so with Maranatha’s blessing, they moved that church a short distance within the Chicago city limits. Likewise, within a few years of starting the Messianic Jewish congregation, that group also moved to a location more central to reaching the Jewish population. That’s left Maranatha with three congregations.

With so many distinct cultures all meeting as Maranatha, how can it possibly function as one church body? Banks insists it does — thanks to the way each ministry has kept connected to the whole. He explains that Maranatha Chapel has blossomed because — while there are different worship services — there is only one children’s ministry and youth group. In addition, the church worships together as a whole several times a year, and the full staff meet weekly.

But Banks connects the expansion to the church’s template used to create each new congregation. A leader who already attends Maranatha and understands the church is identified. Then Banks mentors the leader with the goal of becoming a full-time ordained pastor.

When he first began attending Maranatha, Kewar never pictured himself as a church leader, but as he embraced Maranatha’s vision, he became more passionate about that option and is now on staff full time.

“Pastor Banks has a gift for discovering people,” Kewar says. “He’s a great mentor.”

IMAGE - The Hispanic congregation worships together. 

Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba ( www.gingerkolbaba.com) is a speaker and author who lives in the Chicago area. She is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After and co-author of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection.