New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville is quickly approaching our first anniversary of weekly Sunday services. Michael Washington suggested that I capture some of the stories and lessons from this first year before they retreat too far into the past. Good idea Michael. Over the next couple of weeks, in no particular order, I’ll post a few of the things I’ve learned about planting a multi-ethnic church. As a disclaimer, I’m convinced there is far more to be learned, that on a good day I can just begin to see the forest for the trees.
Bronzeville had already been identified by our sending church as the Chicago neighborhood where our new church would be located. As I became more involved I began to learn a lot about this historic neighborhood, including how different it was from our sending church’s North Side location. I wondered, What needs to be different about this new church given the history and demographics of Bronzeville?
Bronzeville has been a predominately African American neighborhood for a long time with a history I began to learn about one morning when Michael drove me around, pointing out significant landmarks. We talked a lot about the historic churches in the neighborhood that morning and when we eventually stopped for coffee I asked my first dumb question: Should we scrap small group Bible studies in this new church in favor of a mid-week, all-church Bible Study? Most of the churches I’ve been a part of have leaned heavily on small groups for discipleship, community building and Bible study. Michael pointed out that small groups are relatively unknown in many African American churches and I wondered whether the method should be dumped for something more contextual to the neighborhood.
As we continued to plan I started to wonder about the critical components that would need to be in place for a multi-ethnic church to thrive in Bronzeville. During this time I reached out to folks who lived in Bronzeville or were familiar with the neighborhood. I asked, Which aspects of church are indispensable to you and your friends? I didn’t care whether or not they were attending a church. What mattered to me was hearing what parts of church they looked forward to expectantly. Over and over again I heard how important worship music was. The basic message was: “You can change everything else- the format, the preaching, the demographics- but don’t mess with the music!”
If you’re wondering, we decided to keep the small group method- Michael convinced me that it could be effective- and I began to pray like crazy for the right people to lead our worship ministry- a prayer that was answered with two excellent leaders.
There have been many more dumb questions, and I’ve yet to regret a single one of them. Gracious conversation partners have tolerated my ignorance and been patient as I learn how our church can best honor the neighborhood. Dumb questions lead to insightful answers, answers that have significantly shaped our church during this first year.