By Katie Eubanks
Doing diversity in the local church
Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week, but not if these churches have anything to do with it. In the greater Jackson area, leaders at several churches — from a megachurch to smaller “startup” churches and in between — are making intentional efforts to serve diverse congregations.
WORD OF LIFE CHURCH — FLOWOOD
“My father and mother started it in his mother’s basement,” Pastor Joel Sims said of Word of Life, a large nondenominational church on Lakeland Drive.
“Just fresh out of Bible college and started a church.”
Since its inception 38 years ago, Word of Life has consistently attracted a diverse group of people. Specifically, people who didn’t want to identify with a certain denomination.
“They picked up people from all walks of life and all segments of society — race, gender, socioeconomic status.” Sims said.
So how does he continue serving such a diverse congregation so everyone feels welcome?
“You don’t attract who you say you want,” he said. “You attract what you are.”
This means the Word of Life staff is racially diverse, along with the people you’ll see onstage on a typical Sunday.
“I can’t control who comes to my church. … But I can control who I hire, who my best friend is, who I vacation with, who I take out to lunch, what guest speaker I bring in …
“I think if you walked into Word of Life, you would see someone like you working there, someone like you onstage and someone like you in my life.”
For some churches, getting to that point can be painful. Sims compares such a process to working out in order to lose weight — which he has done.
“It’s never really easy and you’re going to disrupt your body, but the end result is worth it. And the church is the body of Christ. To get the church where it needs to be, there’s going to be some disruption. But I think the long-term benefit of having a church that looks like heaven is well worth it.”
And Word of Life hasn’t “arrived” in terms of diversity yet, either. “We’d like to see even more diversity with Latinos, and we have a segment at our church that is Indian as well, which is really neat. The hardest part is trying to instill leadership at the church that looks like that, and get them onstage. Diversity isn’t just white or black. That’s something me and my staff are trying to figure out now.”
For those who use Facebook as a barometer for how other races feel — and stay away from people of other races because of it — Sims encourages folks to take a chance.
“I’ve found that even with talking to Muslims … they want peace and those types of things. They desire to see terrorism end. (Most) people would be pleasantly surprised talking to people who don’t look like them. Generally most people have far more that they agree on than that they disagree on.”
Service times: Starting Sept. 30, services are at 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Sundays; also 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month
Location: 5401 Lakeland Dr., Flowood
More info: thelife.cc
COMMON GROUND COVENANT CHURCH — WEST JACKSON
Racial reconciliation at Common Ground, an Evangelical Covenant Church, goes beyond diversity and extends to community development.
Pastor John P. “Big John” Perkins and his wife saw a need for a church like Common Ground when they were working at the Spencer Perkins Center and the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in west Jackson. (Big John’s grandfather is author, speaker and civil rights veteran Dr. John Perkins.)
“We had a heart for community development, justice and reconciliation, and we saw the need for the family to be reconciled,” Big John said. The family as in God’s family, made up of all kinds of people.
“And the Lord placed it upon our heart to plant a church that would be intentionally diverse, but that we would do it on this side of town and it would be for the people of west Jackson.”
The church has only been around for four years, but it has funneled resources into its community in powerful ways – including the development of a lawn care service, barber shop and beauty salon, catering business and more “in the highest violent crime area in our county,” Big John said.
The church also holds community nights and a Taste of West Jackson event each summer at Claiborne Park in order to bring people together from west Jackson and beyond. And Common Ground put together a Jubilee conference, held every other year, to connect folks across metro Jackson who have a heart for the poor.
If all this sounds like too much social justice and not enough saving souls, Big John said, “The pure heart of what we’re doing is discipleship. That’s our mission. And so we’re trying to disciple people that the Bible, the Scriptures, the Word of God is true. Even some among the churches, that is being lost — we’re looking at other things instead of what God is saying.”
Similarly, while he believes Christians should absolutely be active political participants, “I also see the erosion of morality on both sides, on the right and the left … and I truly believe that the only answer is the church, is Jesus Christ.”
Big John admits Common Ground doesn’t have it all figured out. “We stand on the backs of people like my grandfather and grandmother (Drs. John and Vera Mae Perkins) and Dolphus and Rosie Weary, and Phil and Marcia Reed, and Bishop Thomas and Rose Jenkins, and Artis and Carolyn Fletcher, and the work that they’ve done in regards to developing churches that are focused on justice and reconciliation and community development.
“At four years old we’re just trying to take one step at a time and try to meet Jesus where He’s at work already in our neighborhood.”
Service time: 10:37 a.m. Sundays (in honor of Luke 10:37, when Jesus tells an “expert in the law” to show mercy on his neighbor like the good Samaritan did)
Location: Voice of Calvary Ministries, 531 W. Capitol St., Jackson
Contact: 601-321-9240 or email@example.com
More info: commongroundjxn.org or facebook.com/commongroundcovenantchurch
REDEEMER CHURCH — NORTHEAST JACKSON
When Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) left its Northside Drive location for a larger facility, a group of people stayed behind to plant Redeemer Church, PCA. Thirteen years later, Redeemer is known in Jackson for both its diversity and its adherence to the gospel — which includes a call to reach people of all races.
The church is geographically located in the middle of one of the most diverse corridors in the city of Jackson. There is ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, religious and political diversity within a few blocks of Redeemer, including a predominantly African-American community to the north and a predominantly Caucasian community to the south. So it made sense for the church itself to reflect that diversity.
Prayer walks and intentional outreach efforts have created a thriving, diverse church. Redeemer also launched The Redeemer’s School a few years ago in order to provide affordable Christian-based education to local children.
Intentionality not only affects outreach and programs, but also worship and church leadership. The choir, staff and elders are made up of different races.
“On Sunday mornings, you might hear the Hammond B3 behind some of our favorite hymns from the African-American tradition. You will also hear hymns and elements found in many Presbyterian churches. We also honor newer music being created by the next generation of followers of Jesus. We don’t believe hymn writers from hundreds of years ago have the market on music that exalts the Lord,” said Senior Pastor Elbert McGowan, a Jackson native.
Elbert and his predecessor, Rev. Mike Campbell, are both African-American.
It is no secret that Jackson is majority African-American. “With our racial history in Jackson we believed we needed to be serious and intentional about addressing that history with God’s redemptive love and grace rooted in the Good News story (gospel) of Jesus Christ coming into the world to save His people,” said Steve Lanier, assistant to the pastor.
“We know how history as we know it ends,” McGowan said. “The book of Revelation says that people from every nation, tribe and tongue (too many to count) will be singing and bowing before the throne of Jesus. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He taught them to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
“This beautiful future of diverse, passionate, unified worship around the throne must break into the here and now. Why? Because God has promised to give the nations to his Son. It is a privilege to see and sample this week in and week out, not just in worship but as we live lives together under the banner of Christ,” Elbert said.
Service times: 8 and 11 a.m. Sundays
Location: 640 E. Northside Dr., Jackson
Contact: 601-362-9987 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More info: redeemerjackson.com
JACKSON FIRST — SOUTHWEST JACKSON
Written by Pastor Wayne Hall
We believe every person is designed to be part of God’s family. A healthy church reflects the demographics of its community. If the church doesn’t, the question becomes, “Do you love people, or do you love your people?”
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan — the ideal illustration of loving one’s neighbor — was a multiracial encounter! Our people at Jackson First are inspired and driven by our love for each other and the future hope for the church.
Our vision is simple: We want you to KNOW GOD personally, FIND FREEDOM in Him as believers, DISCOVER YOUR PURPOSE that you were created for and MAKE A DIFFERENCE in our world by living on purpose.
We understand that everyone has a story and they are all different, but we also know and believe that everyone is in need of a Savior, and He loves us no matter where we are in our journey. Here at JF, we want people to find their place in God’s kingdom. From greeting at the front doors to leading a student group or working with our children in the nursery, people have a place in God’s house no matter their color or history.
We believe in the Word of God in Matthew 6:10 where it says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We want the will of God to be done in His church — not ours! People need to be loved and listened to, and we are intentional about connecting people to Jesus and fellow brothers and sisters in the faith to help them walk forward and listen to God’s voice.
We have weekly small groups called connect groups that are multi-racial and multi-cultural and focus on life and pursuing Jesus with all we have. We have honest conversations about life and how WE as the church should live and represent Jesus to His fullest while encouraging each believer along the way.
We are God’s family and we are honored to share in the healing and hope that brings us together and allows reconciliation to become our reality.
BE OUR GUEST!
Service times: 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays
Location: 6339 Hwy 18 W, Jackson
Contact: 601-922-0500 or email@example.com
More info: jacksonfirst.net or facebook.com/JacksonFirst
ONE CHURCH — RIDGELAND
Written by Lead Pastor Donavon Thigpen
If there is one thing the world could use more of, it’s unity. When individuals from different cultures and beliefs come together, the results are powerful.
In March 2014, ONE Church opened its doors with one goal in mind: to love ONE God relentlessly and ALL people equally, so that TOGETHER we will see our lives and our city changed forever.
There are three parts to our mission. First, on Sundays, we deliver the word in a way that not only impacts the spirit but also causes external transformation.
Secondly, because relationships are the heart of what we believe, our members house weekly gatherings in their homes called “LifeGroups.” These safe spaces help strengthen the understanding of our diverse backgrounds as well as provide opportunities to tear down stereotypes. All of this happens as we share the Word over food and fellowship.
Lastly, we believe in the power of connection through outreach. Every month we travel into the community in our very own ice cream truck better known as “The Hope Truck” to deliver FREE ice and groceries. Then we unpack games and activities to share with kids and adults before we share the love and Word of Christ. This is who we are.
Service time: 10 a.m. Sundays
Location: Ridgeland High School, 586 Sunnybrook Rd., Ridgeland
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 601-791-1298
More info: thatonechurch.org or facebook.com/OneChurchJackson