Pastor Mike DeFrees preaches to his congregation. Courtesy photo.
Pastor Mike DeFrees preaches to his congregation. Courtesy photo.

Six years ago, two small groups of people who had been doing life together decided to plant a church in the Shavano Park area. As that church continued to grow, the leadership decided that they didn’t want to become a mega-church, and felt that the most effective way they could reach the city was to plant multiple churches in multiple neighborhoods throughout San Antonio.

In 2014, I quit my job teaching and coaching to come work full time with The Park Community Church to learn all the ins and outs of church planting. My wife and I bought a house in Beacon Hill and have fallen in love with the neighborhoods that form Midtown. Our vision for planting a church in this area is to contextualize church to fit the area and to reach the people that live in the neighborhood.

We have traditionally held our services in schools, but as we started to look for a place to meet in Midtown, we were met with many closed doors. I started to get a little discouraged until I received a call from a friend of mine who knew the new owner of the White Rabbit.

My friend told me about the future of the iconic concert venue and how he would like to connect me with Chad Carey, a well-known San Antonio restaurant entrepreneur who has opened nationally-recognized restaurants such as Hot Joy, The Monterey, and Barbaro.

We met with Carey and he told us his vision for the newly renovated and renamed music venue, The Paper Tiger. As we were talking, we realized that we had a lot in common. While Carey is aiming to establish small restaurants that are unique and speak to the neighborhood that they are in, The Park is aspiring to establish churches that reach needs in a neighborhood without the intention of growing into a large chain or corporation.

The entrance to Paper Tiger where The Park has mass. Courtesy photo.
The entrance to Paper Tiger where The Park has mass. Courtesy photo.

One of the main ways we are looking to have an impact is by partnering with organizations in the area that are already doing incredible work. We have joined with Blueprint Ministries, which has successfully rebuilt and restored hundreds of homes in San Antonio that were unlivable.

Another organization that we are proud to partner with is Snack Pak 4 Kids. This extraordinary group has met a need by providing food to elementary school children on the weekend who would otherwise go hungry. These are just a couple of examples of how our church doesn’t just want to hold Sunday services, but desires to be an impactful agent of change in this neighborhood in real and practical ways.

When people hear the word “church,” they immediately have a bias, whether it be positive, negative or indifferent. As we have been telling the story of having our church at the Paper Tiger, it has been exciting to see those with negative connotations regarding what they traditionally think church is, respond positively.

This historic San Antonio venue provides the perfect place to represent who we are as a church. We are a place that aims to represent God’s response to His creation, where all are welcome and where every one who passes through the doors feels at home.

We hope people will see that true “church” isn’t merely a service held on a Sunday morning, but it is a group of people that are unified in love, living on mission to see this city restored both physically and spiritually.

Worship leader, John McDonalds leads the congregation in a song. Courtesy photo.
Worship leader, John McDonalds, leads the congregation in a song. Courtesy photo.

*Featured/top image: Pastor Mike DeFrees preaches to his congregation.  Courtesy photo. 

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Mike DeFrees

Mike serves The Park Midtown as the lead pastor of the Midtown parish and The Park’s first church planter. Mike and his wife, Meredith, have been with The Park since it was first planted in 2010. Mike...