Metro Praise International church, which began in October 2012 in Chicago, traces its roots to Metro Praise church, started in March 1999 in New Orleans by Joe Wyrostek. At 22 years of age, after graduating in New Orleans with an Associate Degree from the School of Urban Missions (SUM), Joe started the first Metro Praise in the heart of Mid-City New Orleans with the Assembly of God (AG) in his house with three people on Clark Street. The first people who attended the church were new disciples that came from the evangelism efforts of Joe’s previous ministry, When Warriors Dream, which was an SUM practicum aimed at reaching African American youth in the inner city.
METRO PRAISE NEW ORLEANS
In the beginning, under the supervision of the AG, Joe primarily led the church by himself in conjunction with some help from SUM students assigned to do their practicums at the church. Within the first year, with financial support from the AG, Metro Praise began renting a third floor 2,500 sq. ft. office space (turned church) on the corner of Tulane Avenue and Jefferson Davis Parkway.
Soon after the first year, God sent Pastors Lynette “Freddie” Karulkar and Sarah Allen upon their graduation from North Central University in Minneapolis, to come and provide valuable leadership and spiritual direction. For the next three years Metro Praise led outreaches primarily in five different low-income housing projects (Iberville, Calliope, Lafitte, Fischer, & Marry Poppins) and multiple local parks and neighborhoods (known as, “wards”), along with the famous French Quarter. After the initial 18 months of support from the AG, Joe annually raised the monies needed to sustain and grow the church (around $100k per year).
During the fourth year (2003) Joe discovered the principles of “G12 discipleship,” founded by Pastor Cesar Castellanos in Bogota Columbia under the local direction of Pastor Larry Stockstill from Bethany World Prayer Center, located in Baton Rouge, Lousiana; and decided to make a radical shift in the church. At that time, Metro Praise’s Sunday attendance was roughly 100 people with 30-40 adults (including four pastors and 8 Master’s Commission students serving as interns), 40-50 teenagers (mostly from the housing projects), and 15-25 children (who came with their parents on the church bus).
The major reason for the shift came because the church was not indigenous, thus, lacking in the following three ways:
- Self-Supporting: The budget relied upon the offerings of outside donors.
- Self-Governing: The primary leadership was made up of disciples outside of the ministry community.
- Self-Promoting: The majority of the outreaches were lead by outside missions’ teams and finances.
Though the church had held great outreaches (food drives, basketball tournaments, etc.) and help bring over 1,000 conversions to Christ, the great need for discipleship was evident. Therefore, Joe made the following decisions:
- To withdraw from the AG and become non-denominational because of their lack of discipleship based mentorship and strategies.
- Cut off all outside support to insure the congregation would pay its own bills.
- Ask all the pastoral staff and interns to get jobs.
- Discontinue church based meals and handouts on Sunday.
- Move out of the rental facility and have church in Joe’s house.
- Implement the G-12 discipleship strategies.
Despite the courage it took to make such a beneficial change, Metro Praise only lasted a few months after all the changes. The attendance severely dropped to just around 30-40 people and the leadership team (especially Joe) was discouraged because the strict G-12 principles did not bear fruit in the Metro Praise context. Brokenhearted, Joe decided to release the church’s leadership to other ministries and close the church. For the next month Joe took a sabbatical and sought the Lord’s direction. After a time of rest and prayer, Joe felt led to restart Metro Praise as a new church with its own discipleship based strategies.
THE HOPE CENTER & METRO PRAISE
With the help of Joe’s family and personal supporters he opened the Hope Center on Tulane Avenue, just a few blocks from the original third floor location. The concept of the Hope Center was similar to the Dream Center started by Tommy Barnett in Los Angeles. Basically, in the 3,500 sq. ft. building, there was a church (Metro Praise) that met on Sundays and Wednesdays, a youth mentoring program (Disciples of Christ) that had an after school program Mon-Fri and a youth service on Thursday nights, and an outreach ministry (R.A.V.E.N Team), which led various outreaches in the city- especially in the French Quarter. Unfortunately, due to low finances, after only being open for a few months, Joe had to close the Hope Center. Both Metro Praise and Disciples of Christ ceased, while the R.A.V.E.N Team (“Restoring A Vision Evangelizing Nations”), led by Pastor Troy Bohn, which had existed many years before the Hope Center, continued working successfully in the city (and does so to this day).
In February of 2004, after pastoring in New Orleans for almost five years, Joe merged the remaining members (20-30 youth and adults), along with the church’s van, chairs, and various equipment to Harvest Fire International Christian Fellowship church under Pastor Orlando Hunter (which remained until Hurricane Katrina in 2005).
STUDENT MINISTRY WORK IN CHICAGO
Then in March 2004 Joe left New Orleans to accept the position of student pastor at Belmont Assembly of God located on Belmont Avenue and Austin Street in Chicago. Working under Pastor Carlos Paniagua, Joe led the student ministry department doing the following:
- Excel youth group (11-18yrs old) with 100-120 students on Thursday nights.
- One Passion college and career group (18-30yrs old) with 30-50 adults on Sunday nights.
- Belmont Master’s Commission with 8 students serving the church as interns.
In October 2004, after just eight months, despite the great success of Joe’s efforts and his love for the church, he felt led to resign and re-start Metro Praise for the third time.
METRO PRAISE CHICAGO
After praying and seeking God for direction, Joe started Metro Praise in Chicago on March 6, 2005 on Sunday night at the Old Irving Park Methodist church (located on the corner of Grace Street and Keeler Avenue). The church had organized with around 6 people in Joe’s home Bible study prior to the launch and after its first month it averaged around 13 people (mostly young adults). Then in October 2005 Metro Praise joined with Verbo Church, led by Pastor Ricardo Ortega, to rent a 4,000 sq. ft. storefront on the corner of Diversey Avenue and Long Avenue. There at the Diversey location, Metro Praise had a Sunday night service, Wednesday mid-week Bible study, and started a Friday youth service called, Elevate.
Around Spring 2006, with roughly 30 people attending Sunday night service, Verbo Church decided to give the full occupancy to Metro Praise church. Within thirty days Metro Praise raised the monies needed to buy its own chairs and children’s equipment to continue growing.
Remarkably, since the time of Metro Praise’s start in Chicago, Joe and Nancy (who got married three months after the church started on June 19, 2005), were the only pastors. As a result, in August 2008 Metro Praise started an SUM cohort with two students, for the purpose of rising up new pastors. However, it would not be until June 2012 that 12 students would graduate with Bachelor’s degrees in Biblical Studies and some would be appointed as the church’s first pastoral elders.
In September 2010, with roughly 75 people in Sunday attendance, Metro Praise moved to a new building located on Irving Park Road and Lowell Avenue. During this time Metro Praise helped Pastor Eddie Leon take over the Diversey location and start their new church, City Lights. The new Irving Park building was around 7,000 sq. ft. and was located on the second floor of an office building. After a successful launch of around 300 people, Metro Praise began to grow and average around 100 people (70-80 adults with 20-30 children).
After the first year, with the rent being $9,000 a month, it proved to be too much for Metro Praise. The recession, along with paying over double from their previous lease on Diversey, Metro Praise began to exhaust their savings. Also, during this time (Sept. 2011), Metro Praise thought it would be helpful to start another campus in Wicker Park at the Chopin Theater with some of the SUM students. Consequently, launching a new campus at Wicker Park, while trying to maintain a high lease on Irving, forced Metro Praise to close on September 2012. Though Metro Praise repeatedly tried to negotiate with the Irving Park owners and ask them to rent out the space to another tenant, they refused. This breech of contract led the owners to sue Joe personally for over $400,000, causing him to claim “Chapter Eleven Bankruptcy” and forced Metro Praise, founded in 1999 in New Orleans, to disband after 13 years.
METRO PRAISE INTERNATIONAL
Thankfully, God used Joe, along with the congregation of 100 (with twenty leaders) to start a new church called, “Metro Praise International.” Therefore, Metro Praise International launched in October of 2012 at the previous location of 5405 W. Diversey Avenue. Amazingly, during the 2.5 years that Pastor Eddie and City Lights Church occupied the building, they remodeled it and expanded it to another storefront, for a total of 6,000 sq. ft. Metro Praise International held its first service at the newly renovated Diversey campus on October 7, 2012 with 123 people.
Concerning the Wicker Park campus, they quickly joined with Metro Praise International, and then rented their own 1,200 sq. ft. storefront at 1635 North Ashland Avenue from January 2012 to March 2013 in hopes of growing stronger. Under the care of the campus pastors Chris and Vanessa Vitale the small group of leaders (roughly 8) grew to a thriving young adult congregation of about 20 people. They held Sunday morning services, Friday youth services, and various events throughout the week. On April 2013 (after seventeen months), due to low finances, Metro Praise International had to close the Wicker Park campus and merge them with the Diversey campus. By God’s grace, almost all the disciples from Wicker joined harmoniously to the Diversey location.
Currently, as of June 2015, Metro Praise International church is the strongest it has have ever been because of its 16 year foundation; the finances, Sunday attendance, life group participation, missions giving, and the discipleship numbers are all at record highs! Joe has been able to continue his education (earning a Bachelors at Global University, Master’s at Liberty University, and is currently a doctoral student at Trinity University). Plus, God led him to write nine books during his time in Chicago, including a book to help pastors grow discipleship based congregations and a Spirit-filled 365-day devotional.
Here are some current stats:
- SUNDAY: Metro Praise has gone to two main Sunday services at the Diversey location (since Easter 2015) with around 130 in the first service and 70 in the second, for a total of about 200 (roughly 150 adults/teens and 50 children).
- YOUTH: The Friday Elevate youth service averages 50-60 students each week with about 15 leaders.
- LIFE GROUPS: We have nine different life groups ranging from weekly adult Bible studies, children’s clubs, and specialty groups for married couples, singles, and single moms.
- KING’S KIDS: Every Wednesday roughly 50-60 children participate in Royal Rangers and Mpact.
- DISCIPLESHIP: By God’s grace, we have 140 disciples (17 elders, 15 deacons, 41 students in “201” and 67 students in “101”) registered in our “Connect, Mentor, and Send” strategy.
- SUM BIBLE COLLEGE: MPI has 12 fulltime SUM students (16 in total have graduated since 2012).
- EVANGELISM: We have between 7-9 organized street witnessing opportunities each week, with the biggest being every Saturday. Plus, we annually reach out to the “Puerto Rican Festival” in Humboldt Park and “The Taste of Chicago,” downtown.
- MISSIONS: Annually we raise thousands of dollars to send out our discipleship books to such places as Pakistan, India, and Nigeria. Plus, we have invested upwards of $20,000 in the previous year (2014) for multiple trips to the Philippines and hurricane relief.
By the power of the Holy Spirit we are here to fulfill our vision to “Love God and People,” while making disciples by, “Connecting them to Jesus in our Life Groups, Mentoring them in our 101 and 201 classes, and Sending them out to do evangelism.” We believe when we remain faithful to our vision and discipleship strategy we will reach our God-given goal to, “Make 100,000 disciples in Chicago with 50 campuses, and plant 500 new churches around the world!”
Matthew 28:18-20, “18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
First and foremost, thank you Jesus for your amazing grace and bringing us through every trial victoriously! Secondly, thank you to all those who served along the way, the journey has been amazing. Lastly, this is just the beginning, God has so much more to do in us and through us! #TheNationsForJesus