21 Culturally Diverse Churches

Article Index

Hope Community Church, Detroit    HOPEDETROIT.ORG

Crossing the 'Berlin Wall' of Race With Love

Kevin Butcher has a rich heritage of connecting across the so-called "racial divide" in America, but the Hope Community Church pastor didn't know that part of his family history until his seminary days.

Taking a course on Pentecostal history, Butcher kept seeing his grandfather's name, David Wesley Myland, come up in all of his textbooks. Myland—principal Bible teacher and mentor of J. Roswell Flower, who was prominent in early leadership of the Assemblies of God—married a gifted young woman named Lela who played piano for Aimee Semple McPherson at the historic Angelus Temple in Los Angeles.

"My Caucasian grandfather pastored an almost completely African-American church in Detroit in the 1930s, over 20 years before the end of Jim Crow [racial segregation laws]," says Butcher. "After his death, my grandmother carried on his legacy, so as a child, I was exposed to very diverse, storefront-type Pentecostal churches at least co-led by my grandmother, revival services and healing services where all different kinds of human beings worshipped together."

Butcher, who is writing Love Will Bring You Home, a NavPress book on how the love of God restores us, believes that the passion of his grandparents for a diverse church was birthed somewhere deep in his spirit. His congregation, Hope Community Church (HCC), is located in "a very tough, largely impoverished, crime-ridden, drug-infested area of Detroit's east side, a neighborhood that happens to be 95 percent African-American," says Butcher, who also pointed out that the church building sits about six blocks south of a gateway into an increasingly affluent and increasingly Caucasian group of suburban neighborhoods called the Grosse Pointes.

"But Alter Road, the dividing road between the city of Detroit and these suburbs, sometimes seems like the old Berlin Wall, separating human beings both racially and economically," he says. "We feel that our call, in Jesus' name, is to be ambassadors, a reconciling community, demonstrating to everyone in our communities on both sides of "the wall" that there really is a way for us to heal, come together and live in deep and true shalom with one another. In fact, we feel that if we do not live out the gospel in that way, we are literally spitting on the cross of our Jesus."

Hope Community Church is on mission "to reconcile all people to God and one another in Jesus Christ." With a church body consisting of about 55 percent Caucasian, 40 percent African-American and 5 percent Latino/Asian-American/other, HCC's worship attendance averages 220-275, while those who call the church "home" runs at about 400-450. The church's ministry staff also features significant variety in race and ethnicity, from African-American to Albanian to Native American and more.

"Multiethnic churches aren't supposed to be a cute option, but the very essence of what the body of Christ is as a healing community," says Butcher.

More than church programming and outreach strategies, the love of Christ is the driving force that is foundational to Butcher's ministry. Without that love, and the healing of wounds that comes with it, a congregation can get "stuck" in repeat mode.

"The body gets 'stuck' in unpacking ethnic and racial wounds—which absolutely need to be unpacked—but which cannot be unpacked without the foundation of the love of Jesus Christ bonding us together for the journey. Without that love, we get frustrated, feel misunderstood, unheard and disrespected—and bolt. With that love that bonds us together in a common identity—brothers and sisters in Jesus ('Christ is all and in all,' Col. 3:11)—we have the foundation we need to unpack 'the mess' and heal—for years and years, if that is what it takes."

Butcher believes the church is truly the church when the body has an "intentional, loving space created for all people," he says. "Not just, 'Hey, they can come and be with us if they want,' but rather, 'We must work in Jesus' name at creating space, so all will know they are equally loved and have a home here in our midst. In fact, we will not settle for anything less.' "   —Christine D. Johnson

International Church of Las Vegas    ICLV.COM

Celebrating a Multicultural Model That Works

The International Church of Las Vegas has developed a winning formula: Honor God and One Another.

Although Las Vegas is famous for a number of reasons, many do not know that it is home to the highest concentration of megachurches in America. Recently, MSNBC took a look at some of this city's burgeoning congregations (msnbc.com/msnbc/megachurches-the-shadow-sin-citys -strip), and among the most notable was the International Church of Las Vegas (ICLV).

This unique assembly is certainly newsworthy for its size and location, but it is also known for its intentional approach to diversity. ICLV celebrates the blending of the many cultures and nationalities that make up its congregation, and the evidence of this is everywhere. At Summerlin, their main campus (one of four), the flags of more than 30 nations are suspended from the ceiling, representing the native countries of members of the church.

It wasn't this way when Pastors Paul and Denise Goulet arrived with their family in 2002. Then the congregation was mostly white. "I started preaching about not having prejudice, and saying that the church would be a multicultural, multilingual and multigenerational church," says Pastor Paul Goulet. "We would purposefully target people of different colors, backgrounds and experiences. We really made this a huge issue, and when it happened, we started celebrating."

Worship services and even small groups are provided in several languages, including French, Spanish and Greek. Sunday services are translated, and headphones and special listening equipment are provided. Those who livestream church services on the Internet have the option of choosing an English, French or Spanish language broadcast.

Each week, Goulet offers a simple greeting to Spanish- and French-speaking congregants in their own languages. On occasion, the church has welcomed guest speakers who will use someone to translate the message.

Creative Director Douglas Haines told Ministry Today that ICLV takes the mandate to "Go into all the world" literally. "A lot of the world is at our doorstep," he says. "We have an incredibly diverse community in the Las Vegas area, and we make specific efforts to be all things to all men."

One way this is done is by establishing congregations in different parts of the city. Along with the Summerlin location, Prayer Mountain and South Gate campuses are situated in mostly middle-class and upper middle-class residential communities. The church's Dream Center location targets the specific needs commonly associated with the inner city.

Nearly 10,000 members come together to worship at either one of the ICLV campuses, or by way of its online portal. Like the congregation, the church staff and the pastoral team reflect a wide range of nationalities and cultures—African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Greeks, Hawaiians, French Canadians and Ethiopians.

The church's worship music (traditional gospel songs and modern choruses) reflects the congregation's different cultural and ethnic styles and influences. As for ICLV's Web presence, Haines acknowledges that every component is "intentionally diverse to reflect the type of congregation we have—old, young and different ethnicities."

Pastor Goulet says it's the preaching of the Good News of Jesus that draws people. However, cultivating a cohesive spiritual family requires an added element.

"Honor is something that ICLV values above all else," he explains, "[honor] for God first, and then for each other, no matter who you are or what you look like."

He imagines heaven with people of different colors, languages and backgrounds, and he labors to make this a reality at ICLV. In the same way, he sees a different future emerging for his city than the one many are promoting.

"The whole world comes to Las Vegas," he says. "I believe that pretty soon, the reason they come here will be for the presence of God."   —Brenda Davis

King's Park International Church    KINGSPARK.ORG

College-Area Church Seeks to Tear Down Walls of Separation

Launched on the University of North Carolina (UNC) campus as a congregation of mostly white college students, today King's Park International Church reaches into the heart of inner-city Durham.

"We choose to embrace the city 'poor' and do what we can to tear down that wall of separation by underscoring the need to be together, work together and go to church together," says Senior Pastor Ron Lewis, who started the UNC ministry.

"Often the issue is not skin color, but the socio-economic barrier. Many in urban neighborhoods feel the alienation, which we try to tear down with our on-site presence and ministries."

Kings started crossing the cultural gap between the college campus and Durham's housing projects by establishing an inner-city learning center in the early 1980s. That eventually swelled its numbers, led to countless conversions, and prompted the building of a 2,200-seat sanctuary in the area.

Today the 1,250 people who attend each week are an ethnic stew of approximately 80 ethnicities. They largely divide into 40 percent white, 40 percent African-American, and 20 percent Asian or Hispanic.

"From the beginning we were called to build on the 'fault line' of ethnic tension and division," says Lewis, whose church has planted 65 others in 17 nations.

"All our campus ministries and church plants are similarly diverse. Although it's not always easy, building diverse congregations is certainly rewarding and we'd have it no other way."

In addition to the learning center, Lewis says the church sought to cross racial barriers by sponsoring listening sessions where Caucasian ministers could hear from people of color and minority groups.

Despite the passage of time, they learned that many in the African-American community still carried pain from the Civil Rights era. While many of the younger people lived in a new world, their parents and grandparents did not; Lewis says many hearts and minds changed as a result of these sessions.

After listening to residents' concerns, the church developed a multiethnic leadership team to help maintain a unity of vision and purpose. This reality is reflected from the platform during its worship services, with both singers and pastors coming from various backgrounds.

This multicultural shift included broadening worship styles. At King's, music specials can range from classical piano to urban Christian hip hop to Full Gospel. The unusual repertoire has featured African-American gospel singers performing in Italian and Chinese singers rapping.

The latter come from the Chinese Mandarin-speaking congregation that meets at the same time on Sunday morning, an hour before a Spanish-speaking service meets in another location.

This commitment to diversity extends to neighboring campuses—the church supports full-time pastors at Duke University and historically-black North Carolina Central University.

King's also purchased a facility to serve as a home base for the famed African Children's Choir during their national tours of the United States.

Its Life Center offers after-school activities for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The center also has a teen club to develop leaders and prevent juvenile crime. A parental enrichment program there includes a variety of educational seminars.

Each year the Durham church holds a special service connected to Martin Luther King Day or Black History Month. This year's late-February observance honored recently deceased gospel singer Andrae Crouch. Its annual Celebrate the Nations Sunday encourages all nationalities to participate by wearing native attire, with prayer offered for the nations in their native tongues.

Lewis calls the spirit of reconciliation the centerpiece of the church, stretching back to the 1990s and the book Beyond Roots: In Search of Blacks in the Bible by William Dwight McKissic Sr.

The pastor says moving beyond traditional boundaries should characterize the church, reflecting the way Jesus violated Jewish sensibilities by reaching out to the Samaritan woman at the well. Like Him, Lewis believes the church should stop avoiding uncomfortable issues.

"We need to deal with our prejudices, our pride, our festering wounds and the homogeneity we've made our comfort zones," Lewis says. "A reconciled people understand that it's going to take change in us before we can change the world."

In North Carolina and beyond, King's Park International Church is striving to do just that.   —Ken Walker  

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