Sofia, Bulgaria — For the first time since its inception in the early 1990s, the Sofia Church of the Nazarene is meeting in a space that is available to church activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The church has been meeting in various rented spaces for two decades, often with the space only available on Sunday afternoons. Just when the congregation would be settled into a new location, the owners would decide they didn’t want the church there anymore, and they would have to find a new place to meet. They moved five to six times in about 10 years, said former pastor Galin Ivanov, who is still heavily involved in the church.
“They moved a lot and lost a lot of people,” said Doug Mann, a missionary who serves as the district superintendent for Bulgaria, and is also pastoring the church.
Since 2009, the congregation, which averages 15 to 20 people in worship, has been meeting in the back of another church. They raised the funds to purchase a property of their own, but as yet have not been able to move forward in constructing a church building.
About two years ago, the church began to dream of moving to a space in the same neighborhood as their property, to establish themselves in the community and reach out in long-term ways, according to Mann. The church board spent a lot of time looking at properties until they found one that suited their needs.
In November, the church signed a rental agreement on a 170-square meter storefront off the main boulevard, about 400 meters away from the land the church owns, and began worship services there. It’s located in the Lyulin neighborhood of Sofia, a lower to middle class community of about 300,000 people, primarily families who are striving to make ends meet, according to Mann.
Now that they have a space they don’t share with any other church or business, the building is available for mid-week groups, outreach activities and Bible studies.
“The first time after so many years I’ve seen people come to church with excitement,” said Ivanov. “I see them excited about being at our own place, [having] a sense of ownership. They participate in cleaning, so it becomes more ‘This is our place.’”
Last year, the church launched home group discipleship meetings, which were not dependent on a space for Sunday morning worship. Recently they added a men’s ministry.
“We have a short devotional at the beginning, exchange some thoughts and if it’s thought provoking, we discuss these new ideas,” Ivanov said. “Basically that makes us a strong core, connects us together, helps us to grow closer to God.”
In the coming months, they plan to offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, start a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and possibly offer health education.