Pastor Adam Zamora

Adam Zamora talks about church planting and the foundation of gratitude

A young Adam Zamora stood waiting outside the Saginaw Civic Center. Ozzy Osbourne had just finished his 1986 Ultimate Sin Tour, and Adam was along for the ride, humming “There’s no present, there’s no future” as he stood at the curb, looking cool and trying to pick up girls.

“But it’s hard to be cool when you are waiting for a ride from your friend’s mom,” Adam says later, remembering his years of rebellion. “I was the only Hispanic kid in an all-white school. I fought all through my junior high years, and at the height of my rebellion, I was full of myself.” Ozzy’s music provided the sound track: “And maybe heaven could be forever. But if it’s hell then you can watch me burn.”

That night, Adam wandered over to a group of nicely dressed girls. Too nice, like they didn’t belong outside a rock concert.

“Adam, you don’t want to talk to them—they’re church girls,” a friend warned.

Sure enough, he was handed a “This Was Your Life” tract, and the status of Adam’s life was already a touchy subject. Just a few weeks before, a junior high teacher had interrupted class with a sermon directed at the Mexican-American kid slouched in the back of the room: “Adam Zamora, you are smart—I know your mom and dad—and you have a lot of potential. But unless you change your ways, you’ll end up in jail.”

It was a fair assessment, says Adam, recalling that a few of his rock concert buddies would fulfill her prophecy. But the tract’s bold gospel message took root a few weeks later when Adam visited a church youth rally. He hasn’t looked back.

Twenty-four years later, Adam and his wife, Elizabeth, are planting a church in Buckeye, Ariz. After Bible college, Adam served as a youth pastor, got married, then moved to California to become a bivocational church planter. Earning his California real estate license, he did well enough to support his ministry. After a difficult first pregnancy, Adam and Elizabeth were blessed with four girls: Victoria, Asylynd, Katlyn, and Rhian Abigail. Life was comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, but Adam had a burning desire to plant more churches. The conversation of “Why Arizona?” came up frequently with their California friends.

Buckeye, Ariz., is a poster child for urban sprawl, a whopping 400 square miles within town limits. Not so big, perhaps, unless one considers that Chicago covers only 228 square miles. Before the bust, nearly 30 master planned communities were on the books for Buckeye, leading to a little tension. The old guard sitting at the Wild West Cowboy Steakhouse didn’t always understand the 30-somethings who moved in, clamoring for Basil Thai chicken.

But Adam and Elizabeth understood. Arriving a bit ahead of the curve, just before the boom collapsed, the Zamoras rented space at Jasinski Elementary School, situated in the middle of a growing housing development. They spent a good deal of their start-up money on chairs, backdrops, and sound equipment to transform the gym into a functional church space. Part of this expense was funded by a Baptist Builders Club grant of $15,000, presented at the 2010 GARBC Conference. As a side benefit, the new church has cultivated a warm relationship with the school district, which sometimes borrows their equipment for school events.

Adam and Elizabeth are “boots on the ground” church planters who believe in old-school door-to-door contacts, starting with the circle of homes around the elementary school. We quickly learn this part of Adam’s personality when Darrell is trying to take his photo—Adam disappears, wandering away when he sees another couple getting out of a car. “Are you guys from around here? Would you like me to take your picture? I’m Adam Zamora, a pastor here in town.”

What was innovative three years ago is now commonplace. Now every school building in Buckeye rents space to a different church on Sundays, a trend we notice when passing several portable church signs on the way to Desert Hills Baptist. Adam says that the church is considering retooling its summer Vacation Bible School, mostly because a host of similar programs have sprung up in the past three years. Still, Adam is wary of over-thinking.

“Sometimes we treat church planting like it is a business transaction,” Adam says, warning that following the formulas and master plans may not necessarily lead to successful gospel outreach. “It is more important to get into people’s lives.”

Plans change. Good ideas flounder. Adam’s business model relied on his real estate business in California. Before moving to Arizona, he arranged a few real estate deals that would provide him with ministry funds for several years. That is, before the real estate collapse destroyed what appeared to be a comfortable plan. This was one of his motivations for joining Baptist Church Planters as a a missionary. Now Adam looks back and expresses thankfulness for his new partners in ministry.

Remembering a quote from a sermon many years ago, he says, “The foundation of gratitude is the expectation of nothing.”

Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin.
Darrell Goemaat is director of photography.