Apartment church grows ‘by invitation’
One Matters Discipleship Award: Tian Fu United Methodist Church, Brooklyn, N.Y.
When is a worship service of only 15 people considered a full house? When the church is actually an apartment in New York City!
Backed by the General Board of Global Ministries, the Revs. Qibi She and Zhaodeng Peng founded Tian Fu United Methodist Church in their Brooklyn apartment in 2004, and managed to squeeze 15 worshippers into their first service. During the first three years, they moved to four different locations to hold worship and during the 11 years since they began, the clergy couple has baptized more than 2,000 people in the midst of their mostly Chinese congregation. Today it is a vibrant new church start in the New York Conference – and the recipient of a One Matters Discipleship Award and accompanying $1,000 grant from Discipleship Ministries.
"In the beginning, we did not have any members. We shared the Gospel with people on streets, supermarkets, hospitals, parks and so on," Peng says.
They found that passing out fliers just led to most people throwing them away, so the couple began focusing on a more personal approach. They talked with people they met, obtained their contact information and followed up with invitations to church.
"The best way to reach people is to ask the members of our church to bring their families, relatives and friends to the church," Peng says.
The couple call this approach the "Andrew Movement." Andrew became a follower of Christ and then brought his brother Peter to Jesus.
"It's just like rolling a snowball that becomes bigger and bigger through members inviting their friends to the church, and their friends received the Gospel and became new members and then new members will invite their friends," Peng says. "It is difficult for a pastor to invite a stranger to the church, but it's easy for the stranger's friend to invite him to the church."
Encouragement is key to keeping members actively involved in evangelism. When a member invites six friends to church, he or she receives a certificate in front of the congregation. Same goes for members who attend worship every week for six months.
The two pastors also like to tap into members' talents, be they singing, dancing, playing an instrument, teaching or cooking. Ample opportunities are provided for them to develop their talents. For example, a nightclub singer came to Tian Fu to sing and soon after was baptized at the church and became a member.
Peng says staying attuned to specific needs of the community is important.
"Many of us are new immigrants," he explains. "When we found out that many of our congregants work on Sunday, we created Monday worship to meet their needs."
Tian Fu seeks to feed its congregants both physically and spiritually.
The sermons are very biblical, but She and Peng work to connect the lessons to experiences of daily life. To keep things fresh they also invite the bishop, district superintendent and fellow United Methodist pastors to come and preach.
Besides worship, the church provides a free lunch for everyone after every Sunday and Monday service. People eat, talk, share and make new friends during the lunch fellowship.
"Not everyone can eat spiritual foods at the beginning. It takes a while for them to understand the Bible," Peng says, so giving them a meal is another way to nourish them.
Joey Butler is multimedia editor of Interpreter and Interpreter Digital.