It’s a Sunday evening in the city center of Pisa, Italy, and young adults enter an office building by twos and threes, joining more than 15 others already inside who are engaged in lively conversation and enjoying aperitivos, the traditional light snacks of Italy.
The moment is historic. A new church plant, La Torre, is about to begin its first service. It’s the fruition of one team’s prayerful work of the past year to build a faith community and an eventual church fellowship that will be a witness in this city. Now the time is ripe to officially launch the church. All praise to God, our strong tower, (la torre).
Pisa has a rich heritage, historically and scientifically. Its university, the Scuola Normale, is known across Europe for a high standard of education. About a third of the city’s population, some 50,000 people, are students.
Around a year ago, a small evangelical church in neighboring Lucca commissioned a team to plant a new church here. The church in Lucca had been dreaming for several years of planting a church in Pisa that would reach students and other young people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
The Lucca church had to release members of its own small congregation–– membership of thirty––to start the new church plant. Their vision of bringing the gospel to young people who otherwise might not hear about Jesus made it worthwhile.
The first year of church planting brought challenges, discouragement and doubts, but also blessings and confirmations. One of the hardest questions posed by atheists, Catholics and evangelicals alike has been, “Aren’t there enough churches already in Pisa?”
“If the church is how God reaches people, then we need more churches.”
The team did its research and found that there are only a few hundred evangelical Christians in Pisa. The answer was simple and strong: “If the church is how God reaches people, then we need more churches.”
Every two weeks for the past year, church plant leader Michel held a Bible study and discussion over dinner at his house, to build community. When the group finished looking at the first chapter of Mark over a period of several weeks, they celebrated with a dinner downtown. “A party is always a good reason to invite new people,” they thought. So, they did – and 20 people came!
The team got creative with new ways to meet students and other young Italians. They held English language classes in a restaurant, open mic evenings in a bar and an art exhibit. The events gave other churches in Pisa opportunities to meet and get to know their neighbors, build new friendships and invite people to learn more about Jesus.
A year after the first seed was planted, the church now has a core team, bringing together people from four different regions of Italy and four different countries. God has miraculously brought them together with the same desire to honor Christ and live close to Him. In addition to this committed team, consistent groups of people regularly attend the various activities. As the relationships grow deeper, the team sees God working in the hearts of students they meet, opening them up more and more to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Today, a vibrant community is emerging. The first service of La Torre church was full of joy and thankfulness. In his sermon, Michel explained how the church’s name, La Torre, reflects the famous Tower of Pisa, of course; but it also reflects God - a strong tower for the righteous. “Righteous,” he continued, “does not mean perfect or obeying all the rules but accepting Christ as Savior and honoring God.”
La Torre is not intended to become just another institution, but to remain a vital community, with all its members contributing. To this end, people are invited to fill out a short questionnaire to give feedback at the end of the service. Lively conversations continue afterward, as half of the congregation spontaneously goes out to dinner together. Another vibrant community of Jesus followers is on its way to impact Italy from the heart of Pisa.
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