'Something Better Than Revival'
"We changed the mindset and said, 'Let's not work like an institution; let's work like a church and focus on spiritual gifts,' " says Bongarrá. "Which pastors are evangelists? Teachers? Prophets? Apostles?" Today more than 180 pastors representing almost 150 of the city's 350 churches participate in the council.
The unity movement soon shifted from fellowship between pastors to churches helping churches. When an Anglican church was forced to end its Sunday school program in 2008 for lack of teachers, prompting an exodus of families, Saracco's Pentecostal church sent four volunteers to run the program during 2009. When a suburban pastor faced losing his Christian school in a property lawsuit in 2008, the council paid his tax debt and teachers' salaries until the school got back on its feet.
For the past four years, Mraida has invited pastors from different denominations to serve Communion at his Baptist congregation's monthly Communion service. When Mraida's church was building a new sanctuary, pastor Omar Cabrera's nondenominational Vision of the Future Church 10 blocks away put up the 70,000 pesos for the cement for the building's second story.
"A lot of pastors told me, 'Hey, he's only 10 blocks away,' " says Cabrera. " 'Why are you helping to build his church?' And I said, 'Come on, we are all on the same team.' "
In June 2008, the council organized 40 days of prayer, culminating in a three-night outdoor vigil in front of the nation's Congress. A second 40 days of prayer was observed in 2009, leading to this year's 50-day campaign from Easter to Pentecost.
Evangelizing the City
Then, in November 2009, the unity movement made the significant shift from churches helping churches to churches evangelizing the city together. "Over the years we established relationships," says Mraida, "but we were not able to reach the level of mission."
Pastors incarnated the priesthood of all believers by seeking people to assume "spiritual responsibility" for each of the 12,000 blocks in the city center of 3 million residents. Volunteers pray for their block and pass out Bibles and fliers. Today the council has 7,000 blocks covered by volunteers from 100 local churches. Pastors are confident they will find volunteers for the remaining 5,000 blocks by year's end.
The council also launched a five-year ad campaign based on the Didache, an ancient treatise on Christian living, condensed into 40 propositions in contemporary language. Every two weeks, the city is saturated with a new message promoting Christian values. The message is distributed by newspapers, television, radio, billboards, taxis, and fliers, all with the catchphrase: "The Argentina that God wants … with Jesus Christ it is possible."
Many churches reinforce the ads by pegging their sermons to each week's theme. Congregations have been so enthusiastic that offerings to the council—normally less than 2,000 pesos per month—to cover publicity costs have totaled an astounding 750,000 pesos (US$196,000) in five months.
The latest example of citywide evangelism was the February 2010 sending of missionaries to North Africa as representatives of the entire church in Buenos Aires. Argentine churches have been actively sending missionaries overseas since the 1987 COMIBAM (Ibero-American Mission Cooperation) conference in São Paulo sparked the Latin American missions movement. But this joint sending (the Baptist family is supported by 20 churches) breaks new ground. "This idea has tremendous potential for mission, a model to make it possible for the economical realities in Latin America," says David Ruiz, former international president of COMIBAM.