Reviving a Church, Starting a Movement

He moved there to pastor a dysfunctional and dying church. After the former pastor left amidst scandal, the church was run by two powerful families and the church’s “vision” was for survival and little else. It was not exactly an ideal scenario, but it was to this church and this scenario in Rio do Sul, Brazil, that Pastor Johny Stutzer was called.

From weak to bold

Pastor Johny

Upon answering the call in 2002, Johny began his second full-time pastorate. While many pastors and members from the Brazilian Evangelical Free Church (CIELB) doubted the recovery of the struggling church in Rio do Sul, Johny’s vision for the church was more audacious.

Prior to making the move, he researched the demographics, discovering that Rio do Sul was the principal city in what is known as the “High Valley” of Santa Catarina, Brazil. A city of 65,000 people, Rio do Sul is surrounded by 27 smaller towns of 10,000 to 25,000. While the city is almost 10% evangelical, the other 27 towns are less than 4% evangelical and virtually forgotten by missionaries and most church denominations.

As a strategic thinker, Johny honed in on these statistics and the possibilities.

EFCA ReachGlobal’s challenge and support

Gene W., ReachGlobal Church Planting Director for Latin America, came to Brazil in 2004 and challenged the EFC-Brazil pastors (including Johny) to prioritize church planting in their ministries. Not long after meeting Gene, Johny found himself in a conversation with T.J. Addington, EFCA Senior Vice President and leader of ReachGlobal, discussing Rio do Sul, the High Valley, and the general lack of evangelical presence.

What Johny saw as statistics, needs and possible opportunities, T.J. saw as a church planting vision. He challenged Johny to embrace this God-given vision – a church planting vision that has become the passion of Johny’s life and ministry over the past four years.

Developing a model that works

In the past, a vision to reach a city and 27 surrounding towns with the gospel of Christ would have required thousands of dollars, full-time missionaries, paid pastors and years of work. However, partnering with Mike, the new ReachGlobal Church Planting Director for Latin America, Johny developed a more organic and reproducible model to achieve the vision. It’s a model that calls the church back to its simplest core, focusing on movement, not on method.

Astounded by the impact

Church Planting Bootcamp, December 2010

A December 2010 “vision launch” and Church Planting Bootcamp set the movement into motion. More than 45 lay leaders, pastors and missionaries gathered in Santa Catarina to hear this organic model explained. Johny, now Director of Church Planting for the Brazilian Free Church (CIELB), was astounded by the impact of the Bootcamp.

Each attendee was challenged to consider the essence of church – a return to the simplicity of sowing (and sowing in abundance), making disciples, and forming and developing leaders. Instead of thinking about structure, buildings, and membership, the weekend seminar focused on prioritizing passionate evangelization and intentional disciple-making – specifically growing disciples who, in turn, make more disciples.

Testimony to growing interest in church planting movements

One of the pastors present at the seminar shook his head at one point, lamenting that pastors have gotten away from making disciples and reproducing believers. In front of the entire group, he committed to rethinking his church’s “structure” so the structure would serve the mission and not the other way around.

Guilherme, a pastor from Blumenau, commented at the end of the weekend: “I would like to say that the course on Saturday was truly impactful for me and for my vision of the church. In fact, it was everything I was already reflecting on in my own mind. And, how good it is to know that you [Johny and ReachGlobal] have already been working out this vision for a long time.”

Partnership and moving forward

Training and inspiring pastors to catch a vision for church planting and multiplication of disciples is only one facet of Johny’s ministry and vision in southern Brazil. He’s also partnering with First EFC in Lincoln, NE, to plant 27 churches in the High Valley – one in each satellite town near Rio do Sul.

The High Valley in southern Brazil where Rio do Sul is located.

Headway has already been made in one town. In June, a team of 25 youth from First EFC visited every secondary school in the town, playing basketball with the youth, trading stories and sharing the gospel. Out of that short-term trip, a home Bible study formed and, with it, a desire for a new church plant.

In October, Johny invited Lucas, an intern from southern Brazil, to train with him and to launch that first church plant.  In June 2011, Johny will take full advantage of another youth team from First EFC, visiting the same secondary schools and making more community contacts. If everything goes according to plan, this team will also make initial inroads into a second community.

When Johny arrived less than a decade ago, this church was on the verge of dying. Now, it is a vibrant church, bringing life to an entire region. Out of the ashes comes great beauty and hope.

* * * * *

CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

PRAY
  • That God would raise up Brazilian church planters to work alongside Johny.
  • For the rapid multiplication of churches in Rio du Sul.
GIVE

Make an online donation to Brazil Church Planting.

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On an unexpected journey with the One who gave me unfathomable grace, I'm just trying to follow Jesus and love Him and others a little better each day.

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