When Stephen Drake first joined a Baptist church 18 years ago, he knew something was missing—ethnic and racial diversity in the congregation.
Drake, who is black, grew up in Dallas, Texas, in Anglican churches. His earliest memories of some of those congregations were that they were composed of numerous racial and ethnic groups. But as a Baptist, he found himself missing the multi-racial and multi-ethnic aspect of church life.
So when the Lord called him to plant Christ Memorial Community Church in Hurst, Texas, he had a spark of hope that he could reach more than just people of his own color. He and his wife, Tanya, set out seven years ago to start the church. They wanted it intentionally to reach out to blacks and to other races as well.
“That was always in the back of my heart, that if I ever had a chance to start (a church), it was going to be one that was open to everybody,” Drake said. His dream is realized in Christ Memorial.
Two married couples who were black and one white couple were the first to attend Drake’s new church, and that multi-racial makeup has been a characteristic of the congregation ever since. Today, some 200 people—Mexican, Asian, black, white and couples of mixed races to name a few—attend the church.
“Our church is a multiethnic ministry; it has been from day one,” Drake said of Christ Memorial, a Southern Baptist congregation.
Drake said the only “real negative” of the church came early on when one black couple left the church claiming, he recalled, that they had to work with white people “all week; now you’re telling us we have to worship with them.” The couple left, but called a year later to apologize.
“Those that come in and they are open, they see that they are loved; they see that there is a place for them to work and serve; they see that God is moving,” Drake said. “We continue to grow.”
In February, the church celebrated Black History Month. They called it “Heritage Month” and invited church members to celebrate their different cultures collectively as a church. But while his church of 200 continues to grow, Drake is well aware that there is much work to be done.
Drake, who is pursuing a master of divinity degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, also serves as president of the school’s Fellowship of Black Seminarians. He noted a dearth of black ministers who are involved in planting new churches.
“They are seeking to be on staff when they could lead a staff,” he said of many black ministers he knows.
Drake said there is a need for awareness among black ministers that they can, and should, plant churches in their communities. Drake said the common view among black ministers is that they often view church plants as coming about only as the result of other splits of break-offs from existing churches; but Drake wants them to see that true church planting is intentional rather than consequential.
“We need to think about the future, leave legacies, to provide the leadership to move forward,” he said.
Drake is encouraged that the African American Church Planting Conference March 9-11 at Southwestern Seminary will be just one of many steps to improve perceptions of church planting among the black church community. The conference, hosted by Southwestern’s black seminarians, will feature numerous speakers who are able to teach the “ins and outs” of church planting in the African American and other contexts.
Drake said that people of all racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend. A special breakout session will also be offered for wives of attendees.
“They understand in this particular context what it takes to plant a healthy church, and that kind of frontline, people group-specific council is invaluable for other young leaders who are going to try to impact the same kinds of communities,” said Dan Morgan, associate professor of missions and director of the North American Mission Board’s Nehemiah Project at Southwestern. Morgan is also a featured speaker at the conference.
The African American Church Planting Conference costs $30 per person, or $50 per couple. The cost for each additional church member is $20, and for students it is $20. For registration information, go to www.swbts.edu/conferences.