I have seen one church change from pretty much monoethnic (White) to diverse in a relatively short period of time, and remain diverse to this day. When I think of this dramatic change, I can think of no better descriptor than “the miracle at Meadowridge.” Here is a brief account of what I observed.
Sometime in 2010, I met with Randal, the pastor of Meadowridge. He described his vision to see Meadowridge become a church that looked more like its community. The church was a predominantly White church and he was trying to help it chart a new course. The community had changed and the future of Meadowridge required some new thinking and new actions. In our initial conversations, I could see that Randal was ready to try new things and open to growing in his own understanding of what that might require. It seemed like such a good opportunity to be a part of a bold experiment. My wife and I agreed that this was a worthwhile project to work on with Randal and, of course, with the people of Meadowridge. We began to pray along with Randal and to plan out our next steps.
Laying the Groundwork for Change
The church pursued several lines of action. We formed a committee to investigate the possibilities for Meadowridge to reach its community better and to become more welcoming to people in the community. My wife and I led this effort. The part that I remember the most fondly was visiting African-American and Hispanic churches with our group and discussing what we observed. The committee made several recommendations to the church, and the church accepted the idea that change was needed. The key was to move from recommendations to action. Based on what I remember, there were two key actions that seemed to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Initial Key Actions: Music and a Strategic Sermon Series
One was a recognition that the church’s musical style and selections needed to change in order to make the church a more welcoming place for people of other ethnicities. Stephen, the church’s music minister, embraced this challenge and immediately set about investigating what it would take to make the needed changes. He added some new musicians and taught the congregation new songs. The new blend of worship music made a clear statement, but that statement needed further support.
That support took the form of a sermon series that Randal planned out called “Is God a Segregationist?” If I remember right, this title drew its inspiration from a conversation that he had with someone who claimed that people go to certain churches because God calls them there. Does that mean that the segregation of the church into ethnic groups is really God’s work? The sermon series addressed issues of race and the need for racial reconciliation in very direct ways. It was also well advertised. I participated in the series, including preaching a sermon on “how Gospel music changed my life.”
Continuing down the Path
The two key actions outlined above started the church on a trajectory that it is still on today. The church now has a diverse staff and has made many other decisions related to its commitments to become a more welcoming place for the people in its community. It has a unique blend of people and cultures, and is a good place to see a picture of unity and diversity. Randal has been working to help other pastors lead their church to make a similar transition. Yet, there is a recognition that there is still work to do. The church has a Unity Team that is trying to carry on the work of creating unity in the midst of diversity.