By Marianna Alzoukani
In a time when much of the younger population is pushing away from the church, HeartWay Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is proving there is still a way for the church to connect with the younger generations and those who often shy away. Pastor Danny Prada describes his recent church start as a diverse and welcoming place of worship for “people from all walks of life, ethnicities and cultures.”
For Prada, relationships are everything. He is energized by the people he has been able to meet, especially since the church does so much in the community. “Being in south Florida,” Prada explains, “means we are in a melting potential. The community surrounding the church is very diverse and basically, everything about south Florida is screaming diversity and difference.” Prada elaborates that having the diversity around them “is beautiful because we don’t have to work too hard to make our church look like the Kingdom.”
One way Prada is energized by the diversity is through the interfaith and ecumenical partnerships the church has built. Prada explains that they have “brought in a lot of leaders from other faith traditions and Christian denominations to speak at the church and to engage with our folks.” Through this approach, Prada and his church members have been able to build a lot of unique and cool relationships.
The church’s method of engaging with others and with the community, along with its younger leadership, has greatly appealed to those whose churches often find it hard to engage in this day and age. Prada shares excitedly that the church is filled with millennials and individuals from the spiritual, but not religious, crowd. And as they come, they ask their questions, which Prada finds refreshing to engage.
While the inclusion of so much diversity seen at HeartWay Church is exciting, this reality presents its own challenges. Prada admits that the church struggles to maintain a truly multi-generational congregation. As many younger folks are drawn to the church, it is harder for HeartWay Church to retain older individuals and young families. Additionally, Prada is finding that the younger individuals making up the majority of the church are not as established, leading to a struggle to support the church financially. The diversity of the congregations also presents challenges in leading individuals with great differences to love one another as Jesus did.
As anyone can see, pastoring, especially a small church start, certainly presents challenges on many fronts. Prada is quick to admit this. So why, some might ask, does Prada stick with it? His answer is simple. Prada explains he does it because he feels so compelled to do it. He describes having “this yearning in my heart for a really long time.” Being raised in the church and having other ministers in his family, Prada doesn’t remember a time when he did not imagine his future in ministry.
Even as a child, Prada dreamed of becoming a pastor. He recalls a note that his mother kept and showed to him recently in which his first-grade teacher mentioned how great it was that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up. Few people recognize a clear career calling at such a young age; but Prada has been following a call to a ministerial career for a very long time. He recognizes that he does not have to be a pastor or lead a new church start.
“There are lots of other things I could do with my life,” Prada acknowledges. “But I do this because I love it.” It’s no surprise to HeartWay Church and the Fort Lauderdale community that Prada is so passionate about his ministry. The church’s presence, diversity and inclusion reveal Prada’s heart for what he does.
But in spite of all the progress and impact Prada and HeartWay Church have already made and demonstrated to the community, this is only the beginning. Prada recognizes that only three and a half years into ministry, they are still a “baby church,” learning how to walk on their own two feet.
About a year ago, Prada entered CBF’s church start process and was commissioned at this year’s General Assembly. Prada is grateful for the embrace he and HeartWay Church have received from CBF over the past year. Connecting with leaders, scholars, teachers, pastors, ministers and others who are just as open-minded, just as centered on love has been a huge gift as Prada explains. He looks forward to continuing to develop these relationships within CBF and to being a part of what the future holds for HeartWay Church.
Watch below to hear from CBF church starter Danny Prada: