Mass Appeal, at Home and Abroad: Potential Church

Potential Church Finds Ways to Translate Its Messages Across Cultures

When Troy Gramling stepped in as lead pastor of Potential Church in Cooper City, Fla., in 2003, he was a “white boy” from Arkansas leading a church filled with white folks in a community that was anything but all-white. Today, Potential is a church of 14,000 people from 64 countries. The church spans eight campuses, including a site in the Bahamas and two in Peru, and it has planted 15 other churches around the globe.

Heredes Ribeiro, an expat from Brazil and executive pastor at Potential, says hiring staff and promoting volunteers of various cultures has been key to its success. When Gramling took over, he knew he couldn’t reach the city with the way his church and staff “looked and felt.” So, he worked hard to bring in additional people with different cultural perspectives than his own.

This strategy of inclusion has led the church to make culturally sensitive decisions they might not otherwise. At the Nassau campus, for example, they don’t serve their signature Starbucks coffee, but rather, passion fruit tea, a favorite in Bahamian culture. In Peru, they avoid Halloween for kids, as the cultural view is negative.

At each site, a campus pastor native to the area is trusted with proper contextualization. In Ventanilla, Peru, locals struggle with reading in their native language, and a Starbucks coffee might cost a week’s wages, so subtitles are simplified, and they serve Doña Pepa, a traditional Peruvian dessert that is much more popular.

One of the most important questions at Potential is, “How does that translate?” In Peru, the worship is bilingual, but one service’s message is in English with Spanish subtitles and the other is overdubbed in Spanish with English subtitles. Ribeiro says maintaining authenticity in multiple languages has been a challenge. Overdubbing wasn’t their strategy until they found the right person who understands their style and message.

“Kung Fu movies and Spanish novellas can be cheesy because they’re not authentic,” Ribeiro says. “Ideas may not be lost in translation, but lost in authenticity.”

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At two of the Florida campuses, 50-70 people utilize written Spanish outlines and a short wave radio device connected to live translation. And again, finding the right person was key.

“If a Mexican translates for a Cuban or a Venezuelan for a Peruvian, the accents can cause trouble,” Ribeiro says. “The goal is a person with a ‘neutral accent’ who can connect with everyone.”

Gramling says it’s those culturally specific connections that make the difference.

“In each country, Christian community looks different,” Gramling says, “but we want to communicate in a way that reaches those who have yet to experience God’s love.”

POTENTIAL CHURCH Cooper City, Fla.
Website: PotentialChurch.com
Lead Pastor: Troy Gramling
Founded: 1980
Affiliation: Southern Baptist
Locations: 8
Attendance: 12,103
A 2013 Outreach 100 Church
No. 33 Largest