Memphis church plant discipling many, aiming to plant more churches
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Roberto Rodriguez was preaching about grace, about God’s kindness, when the man, woman and children walked into the worship service.
The pastor of Casa Church, which started September 12, 2021, didn’t know the man. The man didn’t know Rodriguez. In fact, the man and his wife didn’t desire to worship at the Memphis church; they were trying to find a relative.
The couple knew Norma was there because they encouraged her to visit the new Converge church. But now her phone battery was dead so they couldn’t reach her. They needed to bring Norma’s children back to her, which brought them into the presence of God through his word.
Now Norma, on the other hand, told her sister and brother-in-law she wanted a new church. Her sister later saw a Casa Church video on Facebook. Even though she and her husband weren’t motivated to worship or follow Christ, she told Norma to visit Casa Church while they watched her children.
Norma visited September 12 for the very first worship service. That was her first time, Rodriguez said, in a Christian church. She went back to Casa Church the next week.
Then, a dead phone battery did what apathy would not.
“They couldn’t reach Norma because her phone was off,” Rodriguez explained. “So, they went inside to drop off the kids [while] I was in the middle of preaching, and I was talking about grace.”
Something motivated the man and his wife to stay.
“He heard something that caught his attention,” Rodriguez said, although he’s not sure what words influenced the man. “He asked his wife to stay and listen.”
Near the end of worship, Rodriguez led a call of salvation for those who wanted to respond to Christ’s grace and truth. Norma’s brother-in-law got out of his seat and walked to the front of the church.
“It’s my first time going to a church. Never before have I put my feet inside the church, and I came by mistake,” he told Rodriguez. Yet, “he felt something saying to go up front.”
Thus, the grace of God did what a man’s heart could not.
Now, Rodriguez has the opportunity to mentor the man, which is the pastor’s motivation for starting a church. He wants to teach people the word of God, mentor them and see Casa Church start other churches. Norma’s brother-in-law makes time to meet with Rodriguez as he continues teaching him about the grace of God.
“He’s super pumped. He doesn’t know anything about God,” Rodriguez said. “I’m going to start guiding him in his next steps of faith. God is going to do amazing things with this guy.”
A time for teaching
Casa Church wants to start at least one church in the next four years and more after that. But first, Rodriguez is focused on teaching the church how to follow Jesus, show Jesus and imitate Jesus. That, he said, is the church’s purpose.
“First, it’s to be able to teach everybody to have strong convictions in God,” he said. “I want to teach people to believe in the word of God and have that love of making disciples. I really believe in mentoring as one person teaches one, two, three people and those people can each teach somebody else.”
God is working among the church as 10 people plan to be baptized in October. In the years to come, as the faith of the church grows to impact the families in Casa, Rodriguez believes the people will be prepared to start more churches.
Rodriguez included the word casa, which means home in Spanish, in the church’s name to embrace the value of homes for making disciples and changing lives. At the same time, the English word church was essential. Rodriguez knew many Spanish speakers have children speaking English as their first language. Plus, the pastor knows English is the first language for many, so the church is open to people of every culture, class and category.
“It’s the best way to reach a community,” he said of new churches.
Witchcraft, violence shadowed Rodriguez’ life – until a miraculous healing
Rodriguez grew up in Morón, Cuba, a country that has some Christian influence through the Roman Catholic church. But Rodriguez grew up going to church, not “being in God.” He said there was no discipleship in his life nor a foundation for trusting Christ.
His mom was a believer, but his grandmother was very deep in witchcraft. After his mom’s husband tried to kill her and then Rodriguez, the family moved with his grandmother to Havana. It’s possible that witchcraft would have taken a deeper hold on the young boy. But his grandmother developed an illness that severely affected her skin.
The woman leaned on her witchcraft, asking her idols to heal her through witchcraft remedies. They didn’t work. Then her daughter, who followed Christ, said she could pray to Jesus. Christ heard those prayers and healed the grandmother.
The next thing the Rodriguez family knew, they had a church in their front yard.
“[My grandmother] converted fully to God. She threw everything away and followed God,” he said. “When people heard, a lot of people started coming to my mom for prayer. Two weeks later, it was like 75 people around our house asking daily for what’s next [and] knowing God more.”
His mom spoke with some fellow believers in Cuba and asked them to send a pastor to teach the people. “It was a beautiful moment,” he said of seeing people worship inside and outside their house, wherever they could find a seat.
Christ is more than capable of defeating the dark forces behind witchcraft. That spirituality came to Cuba from Togo and Benin, where voodoo began. Converge has global workers in Togo and Benin aiming to show the goodness of Christ in the heart of voodoo’s stronghold.
Coming to America for life and receiving an international ministry
Rodriguez’s family left Cuba for America, settling in Miami and then Tampa. For a few years, he spent time in gangs and living in the rough streets. Fighting came naturally to the wrestler. During this season of his life, he was nearly shot three times and arrested more than once.
But Christ reached Rodriguez through a small, Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church. He was baptized and started taking classes at an institute to do ministry. He laughs now, realizing that preaching at 18 was way, way too soon. But the church emphasized people with enough faith could start preaching right away.
Before long, he was simultaneously studying theology as often as he could and seeing God give him a ministry to many nations. He traveled and delivered evangelistic sermons in several countries for about 14 years as a partner with many different churches. The churches would work together to find a place to meet and invite many to come and hear the good news of Christ from Rodriguez.
On one of those trips in Mexico, he met his wife Medley at her grandfather’s church. Rodriguez married Medley a year later and they moved to Memphis. Once there, he took some training to be a pastor. Then, they served in Texas to help a friend with a discipleship program at a church.
After that, Rodriguez said he called Danny Flores, the Converge pastor of R Church in Illinois.
“I feel the calling to plant a church” he told Flores a couple of years ago. “But I’ve got no idea how to do it.”
Rodriguez said his culture normally starts churches by finding someone to play the guitars and someone else to bring the chairs. He thought he’d be ready to start the new church in four months.
“I already had 12 of my family who were willing to plant with me,” he said. “It was hard to break the mindset of my people. This way of planting church is way different from the Spanish people.”
Flores had some important wisdom, having started a church himself. “He told me, ‘No, if you want to do it the Converge way, it’s going to take some time.’”
Flores, who now coaches Rodriguez, helped him understand the process. First, Rodriguez went through Converge’s pre-assessment for church planters. After some time, Rodriguez went through the Converge assessment at a Church Planting Assessment Center. That’s when he found out Converge was supportive but there was still work to do.
“I was super fine with that,” he said of Converge’s decision. “We had some work to do ― work on our culture, work on the message we’re going to preach, work on systems.”
After his assessment, Rodriguez began asking lots of questions, reading many books and visiting different churches. Through all the preparation and learning for the Casa Church team, Converge leaders and fellow Tennessee pastors have shared their lessons and their love.
Sixteen people from Casa Church went to Renovation Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, where Kody Woodard is pastor. That visit taught Casa Church leaders why planting a church with the most wisdom would take a year of preparation.
“These people were super kind,” he said. “Everybody came back super inspired to do this.”
Three months after their first visit, Rodriguez and twice as many people went back to Renovation Church. This time, Kody Woodard and the Renovation team invested a day training the Casa Church leadership.
“They understand the pain, the language, the struggles, the victories and they know the way. They have patience with you,” he said of his fellow Converge pastors. “I’m super grateful that I planted a church with Converge, with these people around me because it’s hard, long process. Sometimes it’s a painful process. Having these people around you makes a huge difference.”
Knock and it shall be opened to you
Rodriguez formed a strategy so that someone from Casa Church will visit every home in the zip code where Casa Church meets. That’s 57,000 according to the 2017 census, with many of them being Spanish speakers and their children and refugees from the Middle East.
When Casa Church members recently went out on one of these visits, three people believed in Christ as the Lord of heaven and earth. Their eternal future is secure plus their earthly life is blessed by the grace and truth of a God who loves with generosity.
One of the people who opened her door to the Casa Church team was a woman dying of cancer, Rodriguez said. The teams go out at least once a month. They usually ask people how they can pray and look for ways to testify to Jesus’ hope and power.
“A woman dying of cancer asked us to pray for her,” he said. “She started believing in Christ. God is doing something beautiful. We want to be able to show Jesus wherever we are.”
Casa Church initiated this outreach so that the church won’t be a gathering inside a building but a group of people who impact the community.
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.