Even at its start in 1992, Viva Church operated with a question at its core. How do we meet the needs of our community? “In the early nineties, a group of older Latinos gathered together to pray for people who had a need,” says Pastor Abner Adorno. “Eventually, they decided there was a need for a Spanish church in the community.”
Abner and his wife of one year, Margie, were enlisted to help the launch team for what was then called Iglesia Palabra Viva in Orlando, Florida. In the first 18 months, the church cycled through three lead pastors, so the superintendent asked Abner—the associate pastor at the time—to act as the interim pastor until they found a replacement. “For six months, he was playing me,” Pastor Abner laughs. “Every month, I’d call him up and say, ‘Have you found someone?’ And he would say, ‘Not yet. Hang in there. We’ll find somebody soon.’ But he was just setting me up to stay.”
For 24 years, the Adornos have stayed on as the lead pastors of Viva Church and have preserved the mission set by their founders, allowing the needs of their community to dictate the direction of their ministry.
In 1992, the question of how to meet the needs of Orlando’s people led a prayer group to begin a church for the Latino population. Seven years later, that same question prompted Viva Church to open a school for their children. “Living Word Academy started by serving children 1-3 years of age, but eventually we knew it was a need in the community to serve the older kids,” Pastor Abner explains. As the academy extended their classes through middle school, they quickly saw an impact not only in the lives of their students, but in the families as well. “We’re seeing families come over and become part of our faith community,” he adds. “Our neighborhood has really embraced it as an outreach, where we’re able to not only serve them academically, but also socially and spiritually.”
As guests filtered in, the church leaders saw yet another opportunity to reach the youth in their city—an English service. “We wanted to provide a place for first- and second-generation Latinos, where the 13-year-old as well as the 80-year-old could sit together and worship,” says Pastor Abner. Once again, they expanded for the benefit of the community, to reach and teach an even greater audience about the Gospel. “I’m just excited by the energy we receive from all generations loving and serving one another.”
Beyond the Translation
While the church grew to include members of all ages, the question resurfaced, prodding the leaders at Viva Church to evaluate their city once again. “How do we meet the needs of our community?” they asked. In the early 2000s, Pastor Abner and Margie attended a mission’s conference that helped inform the answer. The conference encouraged leaders to search for the unreached people groups in their cities, and the Adornos returned home with a renewed vigor for outreach. “It challenged the way we see our community,” Pastor Abner says.
The leadership team at Viva Church combed the city in search of its most unreached peoples and quickly found the answer among Orlando’s deaf residents. “We asked the deaf community what their ideal church would be,” says Pastor Abner. “The top response was a church where they felt fully integrated with the hearing community and not just a ministry that received translation.” As with the Latino youth, Viva Church took this feedback to heart. Today, Viva Church’s deaf members serve as ushers and greeters, on the media team, with the kids and youth, on mission trips, and even on the pastoral team.
The more Viva Church’s leaders looked, the more they found an even broader and more diverse population in Orlando, desperate for a church home. “One of the markers that makes Viva Church what it is would be diversity that becomes unity,” says Pastor Abner. “We’re an English-speaking community, Spanish-speaking community, sign language-speaking community, French Creole-speaking community, and just recently we’ve been receiving some Brazilian families and wondering, ‘Do we need to become a Portuguese-speaking community?’” he laughs. With each discovery, the church has adopted new services and programs, each designed to bless a unique group of people. “We are learning how to create a community where we celebrate our diversity and differences.”
The Next Generation
Every year, Viva Church welcomes a wider variety of guests and, in doing so, has prepared the congregation to go out and love a greater number in their city. But as they’ve grown, they’ve also recognized their own need for community—for supportive partnerships with ministries in Orlando. “We believe that no one person can really accomplish what God is calling us to do,” says Pastor Abner. “It’s a collaborative effort.”
In line with this perspective, Viva Church began to come alongside other pastors and leaders, meeting churches’ needs as they too met the needs of the community. “In 2007, a pastor asked for our help, and we decided to help them revitalize their ministry,” he says. “That was the beginning of our first extension site.” In fact, Living Word Church in Winter Gardens became the first of four extension sites that Viva Church would partner with, including one in Branson, Missouri, and another in the Dominican Republic. “Every time I had a conversation with a pastor and could see that they were struggling,” Pastor Abner explains. “I just felt that I had to make myself available and help carry the weight.”
In time, even the Florida Multicultural District took notice and joined Viva Church in a state-wide church-planting movement. “They asked if they could use our facility for trainings. Here we are three years later, and we’ve seen over 50 church plants throughout our district.” Each ministry leader that enters the Viva Church campus receives not only a model to follow, but also a community of like-minded believers. “We want to expand churches and equip leaders that will take the Gospel to the world.”
Every Nation, Every Tongue
How do we meet the needs of our community? Over the last 24 years, Pastor Abner, Margie, and their staff have repeatedly asked and answered this question. And as they’ve partnered with more and more people of different ages, languages, and cultures, they’ve become more certain of the realization that God is leading them to ask an even more profound question. “Our mission is to lead people to become faithful followers of Christ, but our drive is to see that every culture, language, and tribe have the opportunity to hear about Jesus,” says Pastor Abner. “God has pressed in our hearts to go beyond our city. What starts in Orlando has to travel out to the ends of the earth.”
How do we meet the needs of our world? As the leadership team pursues God’s direction for the future of Viva Church, they know to search beyond their community for those in need, for unreached peoples, for struggling leaders. God has called Viva Church to reach the nations and to bless those not only in Orlando, but across the globe. “One day, every nation will come under the banner of Jesus Christ. Every tongue will confess Him—together,” Pastor Abner smiles. “That’s what our church has become—a church of nations.”