Innovators: Would You Like a Pew or a Café Table?
By Debbonnaire Kovacs and Tami Cinquemani, Florida Hospital Church Worship Pastor I am continually amazed at the breadth and richness of the stories to be found in our drastically diverse Seventh-day Adventist congregations. This week’s feature comes from the Florida Hospital Church (FHC), where you can attend the 11:30 service in the worship center or in one of several cafés.
Let’s begin with one of those stories, told in the words of Pastor Cinquemani:
One of our members, Danny, owns a classic Chevrolet business. One of his customers was the chef at a local “gentleman’s club.” Though not a believer himself, when this man’s wife became ill, he reached out to Danny, knowing he is a Christian. Danny had developed a relationship with this gentleman over the years and was happy to meet him at Florida Hospital, where his wife was being treated. Danny spent time with him at his wife’s side as she was treated and eventually passed away. In his grief, the man wondered where he could have a service for his wife. Knowing his church well, Danny offered our facility. Our church hosted the funeral, and our members provided a meal for all those who attended. Most of those attending the funeral were staff and performers of the “gentleman’s club,” and each one was treated with grace and respect, served by the people of FHC.
Whatever one thinks of this event, it will certainly tell you, one way or another, whether you want to attend this church which puts what it believes right up front where it can be seen. Apparently, for hundreds of people, the answer is yes.
Cinquemani herself told me she was raised, not in a particularly Christian household, but with “an awareness of God and random church attendance – mostly Christmas and Easter.” She said she became an Adventist at 19, through an evangelistic seminar, but didn’t become a Christian until several years later, after meeting and marrying “a wonderful man who happened to be a pastor – God certainly has a great sense of humor. Through 34 years of marriage, we’ve had an incredible journey of faith and understanding who Jesus is and what grace is all about.”
A Little History
In 2009 the attendance of FHC averaged around 500. For several years it had been about the same, and the pastoral staff, which included senior pastor Andy McDonald and associate pastor Jeff Cinquemani (Tami’s husband), felt apathy in the air. There was no clear sense of mission and vision.
So they hired a non-denominational consultant to evaluate the church, the surrounding community, the membership, and the staff.
Here are some of the statistics they found at that time:
- Congregation approximately 75% middle to upper class Caucasian; 25% from a variety of other cultural backgrounds.
- Two worship services: contemporary service at 9:00 am, traditional service at 11:30 am.
- Both services’ liturgy very mono-cultural.
- Services live-streamed over the internet since 2007.
The community in Orlando, Florida is much more diverse. There are also many tourists, some of whom will try out local churches, meaning that each week’s congregation is in flux in various ways.
Cinquemani said, “After prayerfully considering the consultants’ final report, several changes were made including flipping the worship services, adding a staff position of Worship Director (which I was invited to fill), and adopting a new mission statement of ‘Loving people into a lifelong friendship with God.’
Their worship began to change. Liturgical style is casual, and services change every week. There is always a sermon, always prayer, Scripture, and music, of course. But you never know how they’ll show up. The idea is to allow worshipers to participate and contribute. There is no barrier between clergy and laypeople.
“We believe worship is a conversation between God and God’s people that should be planned with excellence and offered with creative and authentic opportunities for our attenders to actively engage. We expect the engagement of worship to continue as people leave the Saturday services and engage in serving their community,” said Cinquemani.
She added that “Richard Hickam, FHC’s Minister of Music, is very gifted at creating community within musical venues. Depending on the week, worship music could be led by a jazz ensemble, a full orchestra, a youth band, an a capella vocal group, an acoustic band, a worship choir, or a more contemporary or traditional instrumentation.”
In particular, they chose to be much more intentional about including a wide variety of “creative cultural elements” in the services, “believing that God is a God of all cultures and speaks to and through all cultures.”
Attendance immediately began to grow and continued to increase in number and cultural diversity over the next five years.
During that time, in 2011, FHC began live broadcasting worship services to the Florida Hospital campuses, serving over 2000 televisions on six campuses.
“By 2012,” Cinquemani told me, “the worship services were full, and discussions began on ways of creating more space.”
The church’s solutions intrigued and amazed me. Most churches would enlarge. I’ve talked to two churches this week who chose this. Others would plant a new church, or create an “overflow area.” Not FHC.
“Rather than offering a simple overflow area,” Cinquemani went on, “Executive Pastor John Monday developed the concept of a ‘Worship Café,’ which would be an intentionally different atmosphere for worship. The Café became a preferred destination for many people and continues to be full on a weekly basis. Relaxed seating, café tables, candlelight, and a tea and coffee bar set the environment where the second service is shown live on a big screen with monitors on each side that follow and offer engagement in a real-time chat session.
This was so popular that in 2013, the Winter Park campus of Florida Hospital wanted FHC to start a Worship Cafe at the hospital. The week following the launch of this new Worship Café location, the Winter Park Campus Rehab Department asked to have their own Cafe because some of their patients couldn’t be safely transported.
This is the kind of innovation that people latch onto, and which begins to grow in ways its creators couldn’t have envisioned, though the Creator certainly did.
That same year, 2013, there were two main catalysts for another major change. First, the staff were continuing to learn from Ross Parsley’s book, Messy Church, and Candace Cherry’s book, The Worship Architect. Second, the attendance of the traditional service was rapidly declining. So they made the decision to discontinue separate styles of worship and offer two identical services in a convergence style, incorporating everything from ancient to modern elements of liturgy in order to invite the entire church body to worship in a ‘gathering place for the “family worship table”’ (Parsley, Messy Church).”
Their prayer, study, and research led them to believe that this would make it easier for every congregant, young or old, from any culture or background, to worship with integrity and find something that would bless and be relevant to them in each service. In fact, it seems to have helped to increase their percentage of young adults, as well.
Realizing the extended ministry opportunities of an intentional online presence, Technical Director Chad Hess passionately continues to keep church technology current and effective, and Social Media Director Tony Mourino extends FHC’s ministry by strategically managing all social media platforms.
Cinquemani says one of the things she thinks contributes to “a solid foundation of trust in our congregation which allows us to explore and try new things” is the long-term leadership. Her husband, Jeff, has been the Associate Pastor for 20 years, and Senior Pastor Andy McDonald has him beat by 10 years. During these years of growth, Cinquemani has also earned a Masters in Worship Studies at the Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, FL, after which her title was changed to Worship Pastor.
Speaking of her own feeling about her church, she said she loves it and believes it is unique, not only within the Adventist denomination but in Christianity in general. “We are a multi-cultural, multi-generational community of believers. Though our congregation is Seventh-day Adventist, we enjoy attenders from a variety of faith backgrounds as well as those who are exploring the journey. Located in Orlando, a popular vacation destination, we enjoy a large number of visitors every week. Our average weekend attendance is about 775 (between two services, now at 9:30 am and noon). I would not consider FHC a ‘culturally Adventist’ congregation. This means we are not about ‘being Adventist.’ We are about following Christ and being a ‘church without walls, fully engaged in serving the people of our community.’ (That last quote was from FHC’s Vision statement.)
FHC also has a very active Justice Ministries, and there are consistent and ongoing opportunities to engage with our community. We are particularly active in the lives of at-risk and Foster Care youth. In fact, in 2016 FHC hired Krizia Capeles-Evans as a Justice Ministries Director—watch for a feature on this amazing ministry soon.
Let’s end with two more powerful stories, again in Cinquemani’s words.
1-Recently a young woman who was recovered from a human trafficking situation needed to be securely transported back to her home in another state. We work with Florida Abolitionists, and they contacted us because of the diversity of our congregation. The girl was Haitian and did not speak English. One of our Haitian members was contacted and was able to return the girl to her home.
2-We were fortunate to have been available to assist with the families affected by the Pulse shooting – offering our facilities if needed, a musical concert/prayer experience in the lobby of Florida Hospital’s Ginsburg Tower, support to one of the victims at the hospital, and continuing to work in efforts of restoration in the LGBTQ community.
Learn more on the church’s Facebook page.
Debbonnaire Kovacs is a speaker and the author of 28 books and over 700 stories and articles for adults and children. To learn more about her work or ask her to speak at your organization, visit www.debbonnaire.com.