By Rebecca Waters and Darryll Davis
On the night before Jesus died he expressed his highest concern for humanity—that we would become one. That we, through our unity, would show the world that Jesus is the Son of God.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20-23).
Differing races often recognize the biblical call for unity, yet many churches tend to remain quietly segregated. We often hear church leaders say in their defense, “We welcome everybody. I don’t know why they don’t come.” This is true of both white churches and black churches.
Pathways Christian Church is a racially diverse church plant located just north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Established as an intentionally diverse congregation, the church, though young, has a message to share with other churches striving to break through real or perceived racial barriers.
One From Many
At Pathways our slogan is “One Culture, Many Races, One Community.”
Most people at Pathways share a common culture. In other words, we have very similar likes and dislikes. Our cultural norms and aspirations are not very different at all. We value education and encourage hard work and discipline. We respect others and their property and seek to grow and improve in mind, body, and spirit.
Since we share a common culture, regardless of our racial differences, it is not difficult for us to be in community together. We share one culture, we are of many races, and we choose to be in one community of faith learning God’s Word and sharing God’s love.
Regardless of ethnicity, people in your community enroll their children in the same schools, cheer for the same local sports teams, and work out at the same local fitness centers. It is unfortunate that when it comes to learning from the same Bible, singing the same biblically based songs, and giving to the same social needs in the community, we do so from very segregated worship environments. At Pathways we believe that if people knew how naturally enjoyable and even biblical it is for us to be unified in our worship communities, more churches would be more inclusive.
Being the Church
A statement found in the bulletin each week of Pathways Christian Church asks, “What makes Pathways different?” The answer: “Racial diversity. We are committed to being the church in a community where people of one culture but multiple races can rally around the purposes of the one true God through his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Pathways Christian Church is made up of a fellowship of believers who gather each week in the cafeteria of an elementary school building. Interestingly, Endeavor Elementary is home to students representing 27 different languages.
One of the best ways to begin to break down racial barriers is through service and working side by side with others who don’t share your ethnicity. Locate a community project that serves others who differ from your congregation. Work side by side with members of that community.
Members of Pathways go into the community to serve. Before the first formal church service was ever held, people who had made a commitment to start the church worked together to rehab a house for an elderly African American woman in a small community in Cincinnati. Once the weekly meeting of the church had been established, members returned to that same village to help in a neighborhood clean-up project and later worked for two full days to create a much needed community park. Service takes place beyond the walls of our building.
Visible Leadership Roles
A second way to reach people of differing ethnicities is through what we call “visibility in leadership.” Pathways employs three ministers: one African American, one Caucasian, and one Hispanic. We know that members of our congregation as well as those visiting are likely to identify with one of these men. Our musicians are men and women who represent a variety of ethnicities. We believe these visible leadership roles help us reach a diverse population.
We’re not suggesting every church hire a new team of ministers. Instead, encourage members who represent differing races to take on visible leadership roles in your weekly service. Ask someone to offer the welcome, make announcements, pray, or deliver a Communion meditation. If you don’t think you have someone to take on that role yet, turn to a local Bible college or another church for volunteers.
Partner for Success
A third way your congregation can connect with a more diverse population is to partner with a church in your area whose human demographic differs from your own. Likely, this church is also interested in fulfilling the biblical call for unity.
Consider working together with your partner church to establish small groups centered on topics of interest. For example, we offer a small group aimed at writing devotions. Although Pathways initiated the small group opportunity, we hold it at a partner church and have invited members there to join us. Through the small group study, members get to know one another and begin to establish meaningful, lasting relationships.
As partners you can share community service projects that will help members get to know one another as well as demonstrate to the community that your church is on the road to becoming more diverse. You may want to serve together within a 10-mile radius of one of the church sites for one project and serve within a 10-mile radius of the other church site for the next partner project. Not ready for a big project? Then get together to serve in an existing homeless shelter or walk together for a community cause.
Invite musicians from your partner church to join your service from time to time. Share your musicians with your partner church as well. We believe you will find more common ground than you anticipated. At Pathways, it is not the style of music that is important. We enjoy both traditional hymns and contemporary praise choruses. What makes the difference is the kaleidoscope of people participating on stage as part of the worship service.
Remember our statement: We are committed to being the church in a community where people of one culture but multiple races can rally around the purposes of the one true God through his Son, Jesus Christ. One culture, many races, one community. What statement will your church make?
Rebecca Waters is a freelance writer in Fairfield, Ohio.
Darryll Davis is minister of Pathways Christian Church and a freelance writer in Hamilton, Ohio.
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