Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, after Zhenia Salguero returned to her childhood faith, she noticed some curious shifts in her heart.
The Holy Spirit impressed on the electrical engineer her need to jump into serving the body of Christ. Church planting suddenly piqued her imagination. Although her heart language is Spanish, inexplicably “the Bible started making more sense in English,” says the El Salvador native.
So, Salguero, 42, began attending Trinity San Diego Church, a predominantly Anglo Assemblies of God congregation, as she searched for an online Bible class. She asked her friend William H. Rodríguez for suggestions.
Rodríguez, assistant superintendent of the Southern Pacific District, directs its church planting efforts. He invited Salguero to a special service for anyone interested in launching a new congregation.
Her heart sank. She had a packed schedule. Iglesia Esmirna, the church Rodríguez pastors in East Los Angeles, is located 2½ hours away from her home. How could she make it work?
But when she prayed, she believed the Holy Spirit urged her to say yes, not only to the class, but also to volunteering with a food bank, a homeless feeding ministry, and a Tijuana street church.
And soon she discovered that the church the Lord called her to plant is a Hispanic congregation in partnership with Trinity San Diego, which gladly decided to help.
Salguero’s starting a church isn’t a solo endeavor. She’s linking arms with others to launch the plant under the district’s program, sharing the burden with more than two dozen others whom the Lord has gifted in different areas and backgrounds.
“When you bring them together, they’re effective in the field, stronger than one person with a vision trying to start a house church in their neighborhood with just two or three people,” Salguero says. “Think of what 30 people can do for the kingdom of God if they have one mind.”
The church planting initiative began when Rodríguez caught the vision of Assemblies of God General Superintendent Doug Clay to plant 2,000 more AG congregations in the next five years.
The Southern Pacific District’s strategy was mapped by Bogotá church planting trainer José Raul Galvis, whose insights into pioneering churches have resulted in more than 1,000 new congregations in Colombia alone. Galvis has trained the district’s church planting directors and is a consultant for U.S. AG Hispanic districts. Additionally, the Southern Pacific District is linked with the Church Multiplication Network Español.
Through 2022, the district’s goal is to facilitate more than 200 people across the district seeking likewise to plant. Monthly training events occur in each of the district’s eight regions. Rodríguez says the district’s motto is Anyone can plant a church.
“If you can evangelize and disciple, you can plant a church,” he says.
While youth leaders are the most common planters, those involved range from people in their 20s to retirees in their 60s.
“Those over 65 have a lot of time and they still have the strength and physical abilities to do it,” Rodríguez says. “They’re committed to learn and have a lot of experience in life and in the Lord.” Older people comprise nearly one in five new planters in the district.
Most planters are blue collar: construction workers, housekeepers, truckers, bus drivers, restaurant cooks. They don’t have extensive formal education, Rodríguez notes.
“But when it comes to the Bible, they’re very knowledgeable, and they have leadership skills,” he says. Some younger planters are college grads and professionals who work as counselors, social workers, and engineers.
Rodríguez clarifies the definition of a church planter as someone whose main assignment is to evangelize, disciple, and form groups of disciples who will eventually become a new church.
“To do that, you don’t need to be a credentialed minister, just someone willing to put in the time and effort,” he says. During the 12-month training process, the planter grows as a leader.
“That’s when a church is born,” Rodríguez says. “We hope by the end of the process they will have planted a church.”
Once that happens, the pastor needs ministerial credentials. Many of those responding already have training and leadership skills from their local church and some basic biblical training. The district will help equip those who lack required Bible training.
Hispanics are an important part of the U.S. AG’s goal to increase church numbers.
“Jesus came to seek save the lost,” says Church Multiplication Network Director Jeffery Portmann. “That includes the brothers and sisters in the Hispanic community.”
During the pandemic, the Church Multiplication Network has been involved in training and resourcing at 429 church plants.