Lord, send us the people nobody else wants."
That was the bold prayer that set Grace Church, now a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida, on course for a future defined by outreach to "the least of these."
When Jorge Acevedo became pastor of Grace in 1996, the church was in a five-year decline. At its height, the church had reached 1,000 in attendance. By the time Jorge arrived, attendance had dropped by nearly 75 percent. The church was deep in debt, had unpaid bills, and was under scrutiny from the IRS for back payroll taxes.
Worse, from Jorge's perspective, the church's neighborhood had changed, but the church had not. Growth and health would come only with a commitment to outreach.
Grace Church's neighbors were indeed "the people nobody else wants"—addicts, prostitutes, and alcoholics. Outreach to the church's neighbors required a commitment to recovery ministry.
Discovery of Recovery
Today Grace Church operates one of the largest recovery ministries in America, with more than 800 people involved each week.
"For many pastors," Jorge explains, "their ministry passions come out of their own pain; and that's true for me." Jorge had experienced the pain that addiction brings, and he had witnessed it in the lives of his parents, sister, and brothers. "As a pastor, I see the wreckage in peoples' lives, and I know churches typically aren't safe places to talk about this stuff."
So Grace Church decided to do ministry in a way that incorporates the openness of recovery ministry.
But recovery was not always a part of the church's—or Acevedo's—vision for discipleship.
Jorge grew up with two parents who were functional alcoholics. They were good parents, he explains, but drinking and partying were ...