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Church Purchases Entire New York Block, Creates National Community Engagement Training for Churches

The more they give, the more they receive; New York church learns you can't outgive God.

Steve Milazzo began attending Bethlehem Assembly of God at just six years old with his mother, a widow who instilled in her children the importance of attending church. Although he walked away from the Lord at 15 years old, the insistence of his mother to attend service kept him in the pew on a regular basis.

But after a traumatic car accident at 19 years old, Milazzo rededicated his life to Jesus.

It was while lying in the back of an ambulance that he felt God asking him, “If you died today, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?” That one question changed his entire life.

As a result, he has dedicated his life to asking people that same question every chance he gets, whether it’s on a plane sitting next to a passenger or preaching from the pulpit.

A year following his accident, Milazzo started working at Bethlehem AG as the youth director, the week prior having married his wife, Lisa. For the next 10 years the couple served faithfully and then were asked to candidate for the position of lead pastor.

Knowing that the role carried many responsibilities, and recognizing that the area, which only has a population of 1.8% who consider themselves born-again Christians, is a difficult place for ministry, Milazzo accepted the challenge and was elected as the lead pastor.

Soon after, the 30-year-old pastor took a prayer walk around the block on which the church was situated. He felt the Lord impressing several things on his heart.

“First, be a generous church. Find missionaries to partner with all over the world and prayerfully support them financially, relationally, and strategically. Secondly, raise up leaders from within the church and send them out into their God-ordained destinies. And finally, help revitalize churches and be a friend to pastors across the country,” he states.

Now, after nearly three decades of ministry, Bethlehem Assembly of God is seeing the fruit of Milazzo’s obedience and making a nation-wide impact on struggling communities.

Since challenging the church in the area of giving, the congregation has given over $16 million to missions and supports 100 missionaries, missions projects, and ministries domestically and around the world.

“Although we aren’t the largest church numerically,” Milazzo says, “this church has one of the biggest hearts. And we continue to see the truth that you can’t outgive God.”

Even with millions of dollars flowing from the New York church, the Lord has given them a unique opportunity: to own an entire square block, debt free, in the heart of a state where inflation and high property prices would otherwise make this an impossibility.

“The block is made up of two church buildings, one which we purchased from the Lutheran synod and one that was expanded. The other parts of the block are made of ministry centers and housing for staff that will be redeveloped into a family life center and sanctuary extension.” Milazzo reiterates that “it’s all because you simply cannot outgive God.”

In addition to the block in Valley Stream, New York, Bethlehem has opened two additional campuses with the goal of opening at least two more campuses in the next few years. The church body, which represents 52 ethnicities, is also involved in serving local schools surrounding each of the campuses.

“With every campus we have, we adopt one or two schools that we can serve. The opportunity is huge because church and state are largely separated in this region,” states Milazzo.

But local schools are just the tip of the iceberg for the extent of the church’s outreach.

More than a decade ago, God began to compel Milazzo to mobilize area churches and, with the assistance of Convoy of Hope, partnered with 50 other churches to reach the community for Christ.

The event, later called Hope Day, was an instant success and was held for three consecutive years. At the end of the third annual event, Milazzo felt burdened to help other pastors reach their communities with their own outreach events. Thus, the Hope Day Network was established. 

Bethlehem’s staff and volunteers began to decentralize the outreach and developed a training for pastors who wanted to bring Hope Days to their neighborhoods. Today, the event is in six states and there are currently 43 Hope Day sites that will reach an estimated 30,000 people this year.

“Hope Day exists to empower local churches and pastors to transform their community through a one-day outreach that serves as a catalyst for community relations, broader outreach expansion, further discipleship training, and great collaboration between churches, community officials, business leaders, and various organizations,” Milazzo shares of the event.

Matthew McIntosh, who serves as pastor of Warwick Hope Assembly of God in Rhode Island, has seen his church and his community benefit from Bethlehem’s outreach model.

McIntosh has led his church in spearheading five annual Hope Day events. He says that Warwick Hope is a smaller church that has had a big impact on the community and other area churches.

“Through these events, we have developed friendships between the churches and built a lot of trust with each other. These events have helped remove territorialism and competition and we are now able to cooperate, not just on our annual Hope Day, but on other things throughout the year as well,” he states.

Each year, Warwick Hope’s outreach sees at least 850 people, most of whom they were able to pray for last year.

“The follow up events are really well attended, too,” he adds. “About 15% respond to the follow up events and then a percentage of those people end up assimilating into our churches.”

McIntosh also states that many people who are served one year will come back and end up serving in subsequent years.

This is exactly what the events were designed to do. Milazzo and his team have a goal – to saturate the Northeast with Hope Days and allow others to see, through collaboration and unity, what can happen when churches genuinely work together to build God’s kingdom.

To date, Hope Days have served 155,575 guests, given away 924,125 pounds of free groceries and household essentials, provided over 10,000 free medical and dental screenings, provided various community services, and best of all, prayed for over 37,000 people, 5,156 of which have made recorded decisions for Christ.

Ashley B. Grant

Ashley B. Grant has a master's degree in Human Services Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University and is a credentialed Christian counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Grant also holds certifications in crisis pregnancy counseling and advanced life coaching. Ashley is a fourth generation Assemblies of God preacher’s kid and has one daughter and three sons.