Sonido de Alabanza is making a move

Everyday Stewardship |

Vibrant church near Chicago launches growth plan

Sergio Nava, Gina Rodriguez, Esdras Ferreras from Sonido de Alabanza inside construction for new church

Associate Pastor Sergio Nava, Treasurer Gina Ramirez and Senior Pastor Esdras Ferreras

A church is too big for its building. For Sonido de Alabanza of Cicero, Illinois, that’s nothing new.

What is new is the solution – a home that’s ready to grow along with the congregation.

A two-story building under construction at 25th Street and Central Avenue will welcome more than 1,000 worshippers on Sunday mornings.

It also will serve as a hub for a variety of activities throughout the week – English as a second language and computer classes are possibilities.

Sonido de Alabanza (Sound of Praise) will move out of its current facility, a former American Legion hall in the same block, as soon as the new building is ready. Church leaders are hoping that will happen around the end of the year.

The new structure is being built with the idea that a third floor may be added later. For example, the elevator shaft already goes to the third-floor level, which is now the roof.

Built with more growth in mind

The current roof could become the floor for the third story. “The wall is ready to expand – it’s all ready,” said Dino Tsoros, civil engineer and President of Praxis Construction, Wheeling, Illinois.

And from the roof, it’s easy to spot the skyscrapers that make up the Chicago skyline.

The view gave Associate Pastor Sergio Nava an idea – to place a table and chairs on the rooftop, where people can reflect on their faith while enjoying the cityscape. “They could read the Bible and look at the Chicago skyline,” he said.

Associate Pastor Sergio Nava and Dino Tsoros, President of Praxis Construction

The church outgrew its current facility, where it moved in 1996 after occupying a more traditional church building in Cicero.

“We were exploding at the seams” before the 1996 move, noted Senior Pastor Esdras Ferreras, and the same thing happened again.

A wedding reception led Sonido de Alabanza to its current location. “There was a wedding at our church and the reception was here,” said Pastor Esdras. “We were looking for a larger place, and found out the American Legion was selling the building.”

The church has two services on Sundays – 8 and 11 a.m. Having two services spreads the attendance and helps worshippers find places to park.

Old facility will disappear

The building the church has used for 22 years – where about 600 can fit in the sanctuary – will be demolished to provide more parking spaces for the new facility.

“We’ve really used this building to its capacity,” Pastor Esdras said. “We hope to move before the end of the year.”

Old church exterior in Cicero

The current church building of Sonido de Alabanza is seen across a parking lot from the roof of the new church building.

The new building will be well suited for hosting conferences, workshops, receptions – events of all kinds.

Pastor Sergio credits Dino for not only thinking ahead, but thinking outside the box at times.

“Our contractor became part of the church by coming to some of our men’s events,” he said. “He’s thought of things we might need in our new building that we hadn’t thought of, like a prayer room next to the elevator.”

Pastor Esdras said, “The town says this will be a model for future construction in Cicero.”

A growing church creates certain challenges, but Pastors Sergio and Esdras know that many pastors would rather be in their shoes than struggling with declining attendance and dwindling enthusiasm.

How has Sonido de Alabanza managed to go from 12 people in 1981 to more than 1,200 today?

People are equipped to attract more believers

Pastor Sergio explains it this way: “Having such a glorious Gospel and equipping people to share it with the people around them.”

He added, “We have cell groups. There’s a leader in a house, and that house becomes a center for the neighborhood. People can go to a neighbor’s house and come to know Christ. We equip those leaders to carry out the vision.”

People who don’t go to church much (or ever) may find that talking about their faith in a neighbor’s home feels more comfortable than going through the doors of a church building.

As they start to feel more at ease, going to church can seem less imposing. Pastor Sergio said, “It’s all about word of mouth – the most ancient and basic way of sharing the Gospel.”

Members of the cell groups are close enough to their neighbors to know who might need something. “The group knows about a neighbor having a baby – they can take them supplies and see how they’re doing,” Pastor Sergio said.

Pastor Esdras said, “It’s outreach. If you need prayer, tell us. If you need marriage counseling, let’s find examples in the church and talk to people who’ve been married 40 years.”

Handling the unexpected difficulties

A project as extensive as Sonido de Alabanza’s new building often includes a few curveballs along the way. Unforeseen circumstances can pop up.

Pastor Sergio serves as Project Manager for the new building. Among other responsibilities, that means he’s a liaison between the construction team and the church board and congregation.

Sergio Nava from Sonido de Alabanza sits in old sanctuary with large wooden cross in background

If he could talk to leaders of other churches planning projects like Sonido de Alabanza’s, Pastor Sergio would say, “Make sure God is leading you to do this. And ask questions of the municipalities. With things like zoning issues and building codes, don’t be afraid of asking questions. Talk to somebody who did something similar if you can.”

Cicero is the central church for Sonido de Alabanza, but the church has satellite congregations in Addison, Joliet and Chicago. And it oversees Ministerio Internacional Sonido de Alabanza, which has locations in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

Cicero is on the western edge of Chicago. For those familiar with Chicago, if you head west from McCormick Place on Cermak Road, you’re on your way to Cicero.

It’s the home of a large Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard, and the historic Route 66 passes through the town. A U.S. Census Bureau report says Cicero’s population of about 82,500 is 89 percent Hispanic/Latino.

Origins of Sonido de Alabanza

Apostle Juan B. Ferreras is the founding father of Sonido de Alabanza. He grew up in the Dominican Republic, was ordained in the Mennonite Church in 1970 and moved to Puerto Rico in 1977 to pastor a Mennonite church in Coamo.

In 1981, a Mennonite congregation in Chicago was asking for a pastor, and Apostle Juan felt it was time to move, so he brought his family to the United States. The church outgrew its Chicago home and moved to Cicero in 1991.

Pastor Esdras, Apostle Juan’s son, became senior pastor of Sonido de Alabanza in 2004.

Pastor Sergio, who has been serving the church since 1993, looks forward to using the new building.

“We’ll have everything in the same complex,” he said. “It’s all here. We’re doing the best we can with the Lord’s resources, to praise his name.”

– Photography by John Tirotta

Jim Miller


Jim Mller

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