The World at its Doorstep
Step into Evangel Church in Hanover Park, Illinois, and you feel as though you’ve entered the United Nations. That’s because the church tagline, “Where the world becomes family,” looks like reality; Evangel AG has over 55 different nationalities worshipping together on Sundays.
For Lead Pastor Ron Heitman, the suburban Chicago congregation attracts such a variety of people, in part, because the church is intentional about “celebrating the diversity with a unified spirit.” Heitman understands that people want to be embraced and appreciated for who God created them to be, so Evangel is committed to raising up leaders from different nationalities to serve as deacons and in other visible roles. He believes that type of leadership development and visibility offer the keys to welcoming and incorporating all people into the church body.
Evangel is so committed to celebrating diversity, in fact, that three years ago, after studying the changing demographics of the city of 38,000, Heitman sensed the need to develop a separate Indian congregation to minister specifically to the growing South Asian community in the area.
“Within a 10-minute radius around Evangel, you could visit 10 mosques or Hindu temples,” Heitman says. “We wanted to respond in a way that the Indian population could receive Christ.” So, Evangel planted a Parent Affiliated Church (PAC) called Evangel Indian Church. This congregation, which now averages 40 adults weekly, worships in four different languages — Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam — while hearing a sermon in English.
“When we’re in just one cultural context, we tend to forget the good things God does through other people from other cultures,” says Rennet Premnath, Evangel Indian Church’s pastor. “When we enable our congregation to worship in their own tongue, we experience a beautiful coming together and appreciation of what God longs to do through every tribe, every nation, every tongue.”
With Evangel Indian Church doing well, and with the goal of seeing more leaders rising out of the church to transform the community for God’s kingdom, Heitman turned the church’s sights on reaching another demographic: Hispanics, which make up the largest portion of the suburb’s population, 38 percent. Soon, Evangel had its second PAC, with Elvin Villanueva as its pastor, offering both worship and the message in Spanish. Now, after two years, this congregation averages 75.
But with so many nationalities in the area, Heitman wasn’t finished leading the church into deeper levels of diversity. Recently Evangel added a third daughter congregation —this one ministering to Mongolians, under the leadership of Batbold Munkhzul.
“Many people don’t realize that Chicago has the largest population of Mongolians in the United States,” says Heitman. “So why not reach them in their own language?” Currently working toward full PAC status, once obtained this congregation will be the first Mongolian church in the U.S. Assemblies of God.
But Heitman still has other groups in mind.
“We are praying about the opportunity to reach the Polish and Russian populations of Chicagoland,” he says.
For now, all the congregations meet on Sunday mornings at the Evangel campus, which has a large building. While the English services occur in the main auditorium, the other congregations meet at different times in the west auditorium. And although the worship portions of the services differ, the sermons are the same, but with unique attentiveness for South Asian, Hispanic, and Mongolian audiences. Heitman empowers each ethnic pastor to make the message relevant to their culture.
Great diversity always carries a risk, of course, of preferring ethnicity over the Lord. Evangel leaders combat that by constantly focusing on one purpose, so that even in the midst of celebrating different ethnicities and allowing for different approaches in leadership, they still remain unified in their vision for the church.
“The world is at our doorstep,” says Heitman. “Scripture mandates that we reach the world — and it’s right here!”