A Simple Request

How House of Faith Built Community by Doing Less


“Can we study the Bible?”

It was a simple request made by a small group of men and women gathered in a local home in San Angelo, Texas.

The group of about eight young adults has been meeting in Shelley Emmons’ home every Tuesday evening. “We eat together and then we share about what’s going on in our lives,” said Emmons. “These men and women are part of the families I talked with while out at our annual camp.”

But how did family camp turn into a weekly gathering in Emmon’s living room? It started with House of Faith, a San Angelo-based Christian organization with a mission to bring Jesus to neighborhood children, youth, and families—and their unprecedented decision to not have a speaker during their camp.

“We tried the year before having a speaker with a large group talk and then splitting into small groups, but our families just loved that small group time with each other so much. It ended up running later and later,” said House of Faith’s Executive Director, Marci Menchaca. “We realized these families were so hungry for community.”

Menchaca believes the three-day retreat which took place in the Canyon through Foundation Camp, created a valuable setting where she and her staff visit with and get to know the different families they serve throughout the year. “It’s incredible to get them to a place where they’re free to talk, and they’re relaxed and having fun,” Menchaca said. “Camp is really where the small group started—through visiting with four to five families there who said, ‘Yes, let’s start something!'”

“Our families just loved that small group time with each other so much. It ended up running later and later. We realized these families were so hungry for community.”

Christopher and Maria Castañeda are part of that enthusiastic group continuing to build close community outside of the Canyon. Chris and Maria, who have four children altogether, first became involved with House of Faith in 2016 when their two oldest kids started attending Backyard Bible Club, the organization’s after-school program.

House of Faith’s hope has always been that the kids would take what they learn about Jesus in Backyard Bible Club back to their families, but during COVID, the organization saw the need to minister to the parents as well as the kids, which ushered in a new focus on the families as a whole.

Emmons, House of Faith’s Family Ministry Coordinator, said she learned a lot about programming for families through the H. E. Butt Foundation Camp. “We learned the importance of not over-programming,” she said. Instead of a busy evening schedule, they built in time for campers to spend with just their family members, playing games and using s’more kits. “The s’more kits we provided use portable fires, which is really just a tiny candle, but they loved it,” Emmons laughed. “One of the great things about getting our families away from everything is that they actually want to spend time together.”

Chris and Maria have been coming out to the Canyon since House of Faith’s first Foundation Camp and experienced the deliberate shift made this year from speaker to no speaker. Chris noticed that sharing testimonies in smaller groups made it feel more personal.

“When you are staying quiet and listening to what the speaker is saying, you sometimes have thoughts and feedback that you don’t get to mention,” said Chris. “And it’s always good to get that out in a smaller group versus a bigger group. You can have one-on-one time with other members.”

When Emmons asked if the Castañedas would be interested in coming to a similar small group at her home back in San Angelo, Chris and Maria jumped at the chance. “At the time, we were really struggling. I was praying for my family and how we were going to keep going, and that’s when she reached out,” Chris shared. “I took it as a sign.’”

That’s how the group got started—a simple desire to talk with peers about their common faith and struggles. Many in the group expressed they were experiencing relational problems within their families, whether it be between the couple themselves, or with kids. They started reading through a book together on communicating with love and respect. Then one of them asked, “Can we study the Bible too?”

“One of the great things about getting our families away from everything is that they actually want to spend time together.”

“I’ve learned so much about Jesus, and our marriage has become stronger,” said Maria. “And we share what we learn with our friends. We share it with other families.”

Chris added, “At that point in time, any encouragement would’ve helped Maria and me. Our marriage and our family might look very different, and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

The gratitude is unmistakable when listening to Chris and Maria talk about their weekly small group gatherings. And it started because of a camp programmed with a simple purpose—to unify families through connection and community.

“You can feel the Spirit at that camp,” said Chris. “It’s a blessing to be out there.”

Read more from this issue

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