The ‘glue’ that holds churches together
While investigating a story on outreach and mergers between predominantly black and predominantly white churches in Mississippi and Oklahoma, the Chronicle interviewed Leonard Jarman, who has studied race relations among churches of Christ. For more than 10 years Jarman worked with a multi-cultural ministry in Lubbock, Texas, and currently serves as minister for Christ’s Church of the Inland Empire, a church plant in Moreno Valley, Calif.
In my view, church mergers are much like a marriage. In the same way that individuals pursue relational oneness, when two existing groups get together there has to be a meshing of faith, vision, values, mission and culture for the relationship to be mutually satisfying.
This must be shared, especially by the leaders in both churches if the expectation of authentic union of the general membership is to be achieved.
Mergers between black churches and white churches have the potential for tremendous impact, especially in cities, states and regions where race relations continued to be strained. They can serve as a marvelous example of how the commitment of the Christian community to serve God can transcend class, ethnicity, culture and race.
The mergers between black churches and white churches can also be a means to leverage existing resources in order to have a greater kingdom impact in the community where the churches are located.
The truth is there are still great disparities in the earning power of African Americans in comparison to whites in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2002 to 2004 Annual Social and Economic Supplements, the median income for Whites is $43,318, Blacks $29,645, Hispanic $32,997 and Asian $55,699.
Let’s imagine two churches, white and black of 100 adults earning the median income who gave at least 10 percent of their income. The results would look something like this:
White church: $433,180 annual contribution
Black church: $296,450 annual contribution
Obviously the white church has a greater capacity for ministry, supporting missions, church plantings, etc because of their ability to generate the resources needed to sustain those efforts. This does not mean the black church does not do these things, it just means they are working with less (something black churches have learned to do historically).
Now imagine if both groups merged. The fiscal results would look something like this:
Biracial church: $729,630 annual contribution
The new church has increased fiscal capacity to support local ministry efforts, missions in other states and countries, and also focus on planting reproducible churches with a mission of being multi-ethnic in their composition.
In your opinion, is this what churches across the nation need to be doing?
Not an easy question. There are so many variables to consider before a merger should take place. Leadership style, theology, social-cultural views, etc. must all be considered prior to bringing two groups together.
Just because they are called “Churches of Christ” does not mean they share the same ideas in some very important areas. In my experience, there are some areas where some black churches of Christ and some white churches of Christ are not very compatible in what they believe, teach and practice. It would be a mistake to merge groups that could not come to consensus on what is the ”glue” that holds the church together.
On the other hand there is a thread that binds together conservative white churches and many black churches of Christ. If similarities abound and common ground can be found, it may be the right thing to do for some churches.
For others, simply more interaction and effective “bridge building” between white and black churches of Christ for kingdom purposes may probably the answer.
What challenges do I see for churches that may be considering such mergers?
One of the primary challenges is probably leadership style. In many African American churches I am familiar with, the senior minister or evangelist has a key “pastoral” role in the overall life and leadership of the church.
In the white churches I have been familiar with, the elders occupy the ultimate leadership role with the pulpit minister primarily focusing on preaching and teaching the congregation.
In the existence of these norms, there would need to be a blending of these leadership styles for the merger to accomplish authentic union.
The issue of worship is bound to come up too! (nothing new, even among churches of the same ethnicity).
Another area of challenge is, ”What other congregations/churches will the new church fellowship?” In my observation churches tend to fellowship other churches with similar affiliations, demographics, theological views, worship styles, etc. Now that the new church is both black and white, what will their circle of fellowship look like?
This may be problematic, especially if the churches considering merging have historically only fellowshipped with churches of their same affiliation, ethnic background and theological perspective.
What must church members of both races be willing to do in order to make such a merger work?
Pray! Ask God for direction, discernment and desire to fulfill His will.
Any merger must be a move of God and not man. It may also be helpful to have joint worship assemblies over the course of a year to catch a glimpse of what that experience would be like.
Also, joint ministry/missions efforts tend to unite people. People know real ministry when they see it!
In my experience, many of the things that divide God’s people dissolve when we engage in shared ministry efforts.
Do you know of any other churches that are good examples of cross-racial cooperation?
The church I planted in 1994 and formerly served for 10 years in Lubbock, Texas (Central Lubbock Church) has a good track record of fostering cross-racial cooperation and building bridges of ministry in the community. It is a multi-ethnic church that partners with various churches of Christ to serve the community with many vital ministries.
For more information on Leonard Jarman’s ministry, see www.christschurch-ie.org.