Thriving Congregations

We Invite Your Participation

Thriving Congregations

A program of Esperanza funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc.

“Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.’”

– Habakkuk 2:2

Thriving Congregations is a program to support congregations within the Greater Philadelphia area to explore and understand their rapidly changing social and cultural contexts; gain greater clarity about their values and mission and draw on Christian practices from their theological and ecclesial traditions to adapt their ministries to the demands of changing contexts.” Thriving Congregations seeks to equip congregations to reflect, articulate and apply the result of their explorations in support of their ministries, with both funding and technical assistance.


Workshop 1 – Personal Leadership Assessment
Workshop 2 – Exegeting the Congregational Community
Workshop 3 – Becoming a Healthy Church
Workshop 4 – Data Analysis to Community Praxis
Workshop 5 – Internal Examination and Execution
Workshop 6 – Missional and Communal Nexus

Program Specifics:

  • Participating churching are willing to make a 2-year commitment to a learning and reflective cohort and foster meaningful opportunities for engagement and application.
  • We offer six (6) contextualized workshops over the two-year period covering topics such as leadership assessments, exegeting the community, church health assessments, analyzing community data, mission, vision, and program design and implementation; along with offered vision trips.
  • The two-year program for each cohort will include a process for reflection and discovery in Year 1, followed by a year dedicated to redefinition of purpose/ministry expressions and application in Year 2.
  • We guide church leadership teams through neighborhood mapping and internal capacity building assessments to further learn the synergies with the strengths and needs of both the community and congregation.
  • Participating congregations are invited to develop and propose an implementation plan, that is funded for enabling at the latter stages of Year 2.

Rev. Ruben Ortiz – Director of Faith & Capacity Initiatives

Rev. Rubén Ortiz has served in ministry for over 30 years. His professional emphasis has been in Leadership Development, Youth Ministry, Church Planting and Community Development. He is Executive Director of Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity and Director of National Programs at Esperanza. In this role, he oversees Esperanza’s national initiatives and the Esperanza Youth Leadership Institute, a grassroots and degree level program in partnership with Esperanza College of Eastern University. Rev. Ortiz planted Iglesia Del Barrio (IDB) and served as its Senior Pastor for 10 years. IDB was the first bi-lingual church in Philadelphia that was founded specifically to serve 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics. He’s worked in prior roles with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, helping to design and implement AMACHI, a national mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents and Communities United to Empower Youth, a program to prevent gang activity, reduce youth violence, child abuse and neglect. Rev. Ortiz has a Master’s of Theological Studies from Palmer Theological Seminary. He was born and raised in Philadelphia and continues to minister there with his wife of 32 years. Together they have three children.

Anthony Ramos – Project Director

Anthony Ramos was raised in North Philadelphia and currently lives in Northwood, Pa. Anthony and his wife, Bridney, have been married for seven years and have four children, Zoryanie, Azariah, Jaazaniah, and Zion. Anthony Ramos is a product of Esperanza, graduating in December of 2011 as co-valedictorian of his graduating class in Esperanza College. Anthony Ramos has obtained his Bachelor of Social Work from Eastern University and holds a Master of Divinity from Missio Seminary (formerly Biblical Theological Seminary). Anthony Ramos, who has worked on Esperanza’s Faith and Capacity Initiatives for seven years, serves as Project Director and has helped the development, launch, and oversaw the Esperanza Youth Leadership Institute, Renovación Pastoral, and Thriving Congregations. Anthony oversaw youth mentoring programs in 7 cities across the country, oversaw and helped the implementation of Esperanza’s Bible engagement (Vive la Vida, Vive La Palabra) that engaged over 2,000 people in diverse Bible reading plans, and spearheaded the highly successful online #GoAndDo Campaign to encourage acts of kindness. Anthony Ramos is an Adjunct Professor teaching Faith, Reason, and Justice and Bible 100 to first year students at Esperanza College, and is a rapper and songwriter, who goes by “A-Ram” and utilizes his Hip Hop platform as a medium to communicate his faith and life experience. Anthony Ramos has had his music played in 116 countries and has amassed over 500,000 streams in the past 3 years. Serving at Esperanza, Inc. Anthony Ramos is able to see his faith come alongside his passion for serving his community.

Ivelisse Vazquez-Figueroa – Associate Project Director

Ivelisse Vazquez was born in Puerto Rico and has been a resident in the city of Philadelphia for over 16 years. Ivelisse has been married to Ramon, a wonderful and hard-working gentleman close to 6 years and they have a very busy home with four children: Carolay, Caleb. Josue and Rebecca. Ivelisse is passionate about Early and Special Needs education as well as preaching the Gospel.  She studied K3 at University of Puerto Rico and is currently pursuing her MA degree on Christian Counseling with Christian University Inc.  She serves as an Elder and Education Director at Iglesia Mahanaim International and also serves as a Chaplain for Crown of Justice Chaplaincy Ministry Corp. Ivelisse’s compassion is for the underserved community thus explains why she has served in a variety of community based and nonprofit organizations, that provides a voice to those who are voiceless.  She has served as a Youth Leader on a Regional level educating, supervising, and leading youth leaders among different churches. Ivelisse loves anything that has to do with learning and growth. She is a firm believer that when you stop learning you will stop growing. Her hobbies are reading, spending quality time with her family and visiting historical places around the world such as Rome, Venice. Toledo etc.

Jennifer Martinez – Administrative Manager

Jennifer Martinez, a native of North Philadelphia, currently resides in the Northeast with her husband Michael, whom she has been married to for six years. Since she started her walk with the Lord, Jennifer has been actively involved in various areas of ministry within her church, Iglesia Mahanaim International. However, her real passion lies in youth leadership development. She has been a youth mentor for four years and is now serving as a youth pastor and teacher, a role she has held for the last five years. Apart from her church work, Jennifer has been involved in other youth programs, including Girls Today, Leaders Tomorrow, associated with Congreso de Latinos Unidos. In this program, she facilitated an average of 60 girls from different high schools. Her dedication to serving her community led her to enroll herself and her team in the Esperanza Youth Leadership Program, which they completed in September 2023.

Jennifer’s professional experience spans 12 years in administrative work, where she has honed her skills in making sense of things for others. She graduated from Manor College with an Associate Degree in Psychology and hopes to pursue further studies in the field. Outside of her work, Jennifer enjoys writing poetry, which she shares on her Instagram and YouTube page called His_Design_Speaks.

Melinda Sánchez Donio – External Assessment Coordinator

Melinda Sánchez Donio, a Camden, NJ native and former White House Appointee, has been actively involved in community development, leadership development and ministry for over 20 years. In 2017, Melinda began offering consulting services that have allowed her to use her experience in the public and nonprofit sector offering thought leadership, research, program creation/curation and facilitation as well as managerial services to nonprofit and charitable organizations. While her clients and projects have varied greatly, each has been community driven; promoting growth, sustainability and opportunities for education and leadership development for their staff or community. She is excited to have recently obtained her PA Realtors License and to have been selected as a participant in the 2022 Neighborworks America Shared Equity Housing Consultant Mentor Program. She is looking to continue her growth and education regarding housing and accessibility and their role in building strong communities. Melinda has a Masters in City Planning and a BA in Urban & Environmental Studies from
the University of Pennsylvania. For the past year she has served on the leadership team and as a teaching minister at Bridge Point Church, New Jersey. Melinda, and her husband David are the proud parents to rambunctious toddler, Matthew. They recently moved to Easton, PA and are happy to call the Lehigh Valley Area home.

Rev. Dr. Larry L. Anderson Jr. – Internal Assessment Coordinator

Larry L. Anderson Jr. is a North Philadelphia native who now resides in Glenside, PA. The Lord has blessed him with a wonderful wife, Kim and three beautiful children, Marquis, Darius, and Gabrielle. Anderson graduated from Philadelphia Biblical University (Cairn Univ.) with a B.S. in Bible with an emphasis in Christian Leadership. He has received his Master of Divinity and his Doctorate in Ministry Degrees from Biblical Theological Seminary, (Missio Seminary). Dr. Anderson became the Sr. Pastor of Great Commission Church in September 2004. Dr. Anderson was the first African American Professor to serve on the faculty of Theological Seminary. He established the Urban M. Div. program and served as director of both the Doctoral and Urban Programs. Dr. Anderson joined the Staff of the Baptist Resource Network of the Southern Baptist Convention in April 2013. He is the Director of Healthy Churches overseeing 350 churches throughout Pennsylvania and South Jersey. His primary role is to assess the overall health of a church and walk alongside them to fulfill their Calling in God’s Kingdom. Dr.
Anderson is the co-author of the book ‘Ask Me Why I’m Not In Church’ released in June 2019.

Rev. Dr. Kyle Canty – Internal Assessment Coordinator

D. Kyle Canty was born and raised in North Philadelphia and now resides in the West Oak Lane section of the city. He and his wife, Pam, have been married for 21 years and have three children: an 18-year-old son Micah, a 17-year-old daughter Karis and an 8-year-old daughter Shiloh. Kyle received a Bachelor of Science in Bible and Pastoral Ministry and Master of Science in Christian Counseling from Cairn University (formerly Philadelphia Biblical University). He also has a Master of Divinity in Urban Missional Leadership and a Doctor of Ministry with a focus on Urban Missiology from Missio Seminary (formerly Biblical Seminary). He has over 30 years of ministry experience, most recently as assistant pastor at Great Commission Church in the West Oak Lane community where he served for over 20 years. He also co-authored a book in 2019 with Dr. Larry L. Anderson, “Ask Me Why I’m Not In Church: A Call for the Church To Get Out of the Building”. Kyle serves as the City Missionary/Church Plant Catalyst for SEND (the North American Mission Board) and has a love for incarnational urban ministry among marginalized communities. His passion includes seeing individuals discover and follow God's calling for their lives.

Alyssa Vasquez – Program Evaluator

Alyssa Vasquez is a Diversity & Inclusion Trainer for Cultured Enuf, developing and conducting trainings for organizations and staff on corporate culture strategies that help to reinforce psychological safety. As a Latina, growing up in a predominantly African American neighborhood in the inner-city of Philadelphia, attending a primarily Caucasian private university, and serving in both underserved and affluent church communities in Washington, DC, Alyssa comes with a plethora of knowledge and experience in cross-cultural communications and understanding the nuances behind diversity integration. Her passion is to enable people of diverse backgrounds to have a “seat at the table” while shaping decisions and challenging the status quo.
Vasquez is also the Founder of YouBelong LLC, a consulting company working to connect individuals with churches that inspire them to fulfill their purpose and connect to their communities. Prior to founding YouBelong LLC, Alyssa spent 10+ years working closely with local businesses and non-profit organizations in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area helping to improve their administrative processes, leadership development, team building, and strategic outreach efforts. She is also passionate about helping others identify their gifts and talents, which has been the cornerstone of her many public speaking engagements throughout the United States.
Vasquez has a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from American University, is a published author of Christian Citizen Magazine, and has traveled extensively throughout the Western Hemisphere. In her free time she enjoys networking within the DC entrepreneurial community, serving as a Youth Pastor, traveling, and diving into exciting new cultural experiences.