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.

Program Specifics:

  • Esperanza is in the process of recruiting churches willing to make a 2-year commitment to a learning and reflective cohort and foster meaningful opportunities for engagement and application.
  • Six contextualized workshops over the two-year period covering topics such as the impact of gentrification on ministry, multi-ethnic dynamics, a theology of technology, mission, program design and implementation, and 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 will guide your 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.
  • Vision trips to ministries in the region doing innovative and meaningful work within their context.

Rev. Ruben Ortiz – Director of National Programs

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 6 years and have three children, Zoryanie, Azariah, and Jaazaniah, and are expecting their fourth later in 2022. 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 National Programs team for six years, 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 utilizes his Hip Hop platform as a medium to communicate his faith and life experience; his music played in 91 countries and has amassed over 400,000 streams in the past 2 years. Serving at Esperanza, Inc. Anthony Ramos is able to see his faith come alongside his passion for serving his community.

Kayla Gonzales – Associate Project Director

Kayla Gonzales serves as the Associate Project Director of the Esperanza Youth Leadership Institute. She is a Philadelphia native who was educated and currently lives, works, worships, and serves in the Hunting Park community. Kayla is a product of local church youth ministry, and currently serves locally as a Youth Pastor. In 2017, Kayla was a member of the very first cohort of the Esperanza Youth Leadership Institute and was also part the 2019 cohort of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative. She is passionate about urban youth and aims to empower those who come from “unfavorable” places to rise within their own communities and generate the impact and change necessary for those communities to thrive. Kayla currently oversees the Go and Do Youth Civic Engagement Program at Esperanza, where she educates and engages young people in exploring civic topics that are meaningful to them and their communities. Kayla’s work in youth ministry and mentoring for over 8 years has inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in counseling from Missio Seminary (formerly Biblical Theological Seminary). She hopes to continue serving young people and their families through the mental health field and beyond.

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.

Dr. Roberto Reyes– Program Evaluator

Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Dr. Reyes previously served at Messiah University in nearby Mechanicsburg as Professor of Human Development and Family Science, as well as the Research Director for the Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning and Professor of Sociology at Goshen College in Indiana. There Dr. Reyes was able to develop the Center’s post-doctoral research fellowship program as well as to conduct a regional demographic/educational study of Latino students in North Central Indiana. His Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Studies and Master of Divinity in Marriage and Family comes from Fuller Seminary, and he is also a Certified Family Life Educator and Clinical Fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. While at Fuller, Dr. Reyes was also part of the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program and volunteered as an assistant pastor for a Salvadorian group in Burbank, California. Dr. Reyes’ research interests include the study of acculturative stress and coping among Latino families and the study of racial reconciliation, particularly the development of effective leadership strategies in the growth 1of urban multicultural/multiracial churches. His wife, Audrey, is a Registered Dietitian and works in Enola, Pennsylvania. They have three children, and Reyes enjoys swimming, scuba diving, listening to audiobooks, and traveling with his family.