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Summer 2006 Rapport: Leading Diverse Churches

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In 1985, Dr. Steve Allen accepted a pastorate in West Columbia, South Carolina. Over the next 15 years, the church grew from about 40 attendees to over 600. Allen graduated with a Doctor of Ministry in 2001.

Although our church was above average in size, ministries and influence, we were stymied in a comfort zone—going nowhere.

Academic research for my D.Min. at AGTS helped me see that our church was not addressing our city’s postmodern culture or responsibly reflecting the growing ethnic cultures around us. While the population around our church is 33% African-American, 15% Hispanic and Asian, and 52% Caucasian, our church was primarily Caucasian, with only 15% African-American and 5% other ethnicities.

We began our transition by implementing three key components:

1. Intentionality. To increase the proportion of minorities in leadership, we decided persons from more than one ethnic group had to lead every ministry. Some congregants began to feel unsettled. One Caucasian man said, “Pastor, we are not used to being in the minority.”

2. Sensitivity. We asked each ministry to evaluate its fundamental approach, procedures and results through the eyes of a non-Christian. Paul gave us a precedent in 1 Corinthians 14:11: “If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker and he is a foreigner to me.” We focused on reaching, teaching and training the unsaved, unreached and church dropouts. Some accused me of being non-Pentecostal.

3. Biblical Training. I studied Acts 1-15. When the leadership of the Acts church was stagnated by its inability to accept non-Jews, James summarized the final ruling: “We should not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). I realized we had to remove barriers for the church to truly grow.

The process has taken five years. We have retrained or replaced nearly all of our ministry personnel. Our church is now 50% African American, 30% Caucasian, 15% Hispanic and 5% other ethnicities.

What did this transition cost?

  • over $500,000 in lost income the first year
  • 300 people, although now attendance has grown back to nearly 400
  • 85% of ministry workers

Has it been worth it? Ten thousand times, “YES!”

Today I have the full support of the leadership team, congregation and community. Our church changed its name to reflect who we are. Anyone who enters our church with prejudice either won’t stay for long or will be overpowered by the warmth of true acceptance and love.

One visiting Caucasian person said, “I just love this church, three African-American believers came up to me and welcomed me with a hug. I felt accepted.” Today, we are experiencing what a postmodern Pentecostal church in the south should be and are still striving for excellence. We will not turn back!

Updated: Monday, July 24, 2006 10:45 AM

 

 

 
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