In a recent article, US Churches Make Moves to Become More Diverse, Less Racially Segregated, two Florida churches in Jacksonville are merging together which will require them to eliminate church discrimination. The two churches, Ridgewood Baptist Church, a predominately White church in Suburban Orange Park, and Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, a predominately Black church, will merge together as a result of financial challenges. The merging of the two churches can cause complications that result from differences in the racial makeup.
The primary advantage that both churches have is that they are both Baptist churches. The two Baptist churches have the same doctrinal foundation. Baptists are individuals who comprise a group of denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers (believer’s baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and that it must be done by complete immersion (as opposed to affusion or sprinkling). Other tenets of Baptist churches include soul competency (liberty), salvation through faith alone, Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice, and the autonomy of the local congregation. Baptists recognize two ministerial offices, pastors and deacons. Baptist churches are widely considered to be Protestant churches, though some Baptists disavow this identity.
Some of the problems that may surface as a result of the merger will be related to leadership, staffing, programming, and resource allocation. Both churches are lead by a pastor, one White and one Black. The pastors will not have the same sermon delivery style which may cause congregants to favor one pastor over the other. They will have differences in appearance. Many Whites are not as concerned with the way that people dress when compared to Blacks. They will also have differences in how they interact with people. For example, Whites believe in direct eye contact while Blacks may not look at a person in authority directly in their eye. Whites believe in a handshake as a positive interaction while Blacks may not place the same premium on the handshake especially if it must be accompanied with the expectation of direct eye contact.
This could especially cause problems in the youth program. If they are in Sunday School with a White teacher who expects for them to look at them directly and sit still the Black children may reject the White Sunday School teacher. This could become problematic for the further growth of the church in that Black children may fell alienated and as they become older either choose to attend another church or – God forbid – not attend church at all.
Another problem that the church merger could face is how do you combine the staff without people feeling that that they should be in the chosen to be on the new staff. Some staff who are not chosen may feel that church discrimination is the reason that they were not rehired or appointed. For some staff members, especially, support staff such as administrative assistants or secretaries there may be a lost of financial resources in the form of income. This will cause feelings of hatred associate with church discrimination and additional people may leave the church therefore causing additional financial challenges for the church which is the original reason for the merger.
Another problem that the church merger could face is programming. White and Blacks have different programming needs. For example, Whites may choose to service they poor by providing soup kitchen services. But since many poor Blacks are either undereducated or in need of social and psychological services, the Black Baptist church may opt for a different type of programming.
The bottom line is that the Black and White Baptist church has a possibility of unlimited cultural differences that could devastate the proposed merger. Leadership for both churches must consider these differences. Both churches must implement a process that merges the churches with the least complications and glorify God – The Father of Jesus Christ – at the same time. The correct transition will take time and I recommend the following steps:
Leadership Acceptance – The first challenge will the acceptance of Black leadership by the White congregation and acceptance of the White leadership by the Black congregation. Every other week have the Black pastor preach to the White congregation and every other week have the White pastor preach to the Black congregation. This should go on for about three months. The next three months follow the same pattern but have the music ministry accompany the pastor. This will indoctrinate each congregation into the different preaching styles and styles of music.
“Church Hall Meetings” – Schedule at least four meetings for the entire congregations to attend. Have two meeting at the Black church and two meetings at the White church. When you have the meetings at the White church, make sure that the congregation from the Black church attends and vise versa. I would choose the midweek day service as the day for the meeting. This will set the expectation for Blacks and Whites attending services together. Record all of the meetings. Have the meetings transcribed and categorize the desires that the attendees express.
Program Integration – From the transcriptions, determine two programs that Hall Meeting attendees expressed as a desire for the church. Assign one all Black leadership team for one program and one all White leadership team for the other program. The Black leadership team, with the support of the White congregation, will facilitate the program at the White church. The White leadership teach, with the support of the Black congregation, will facilitate the program at the Black church. This will provide an opportunity for cross racial interaction at the leadership level. Make sure that neither Pastor is on either team.
Shared Vision Development – Have both congregations come together to develop a shared vision for the new church to ensure there is an elimination of church discrimination. A shared vision is the answer to the question, “What do we want to create?” ” A shared vision is a picture that everyone in the church carries in their heads and hearts.
Strategic Plan Development – Have both congregations to use the shared vision to develop a strategic plan for leadership, programming, finances, and resource allocation as well as any other areas of need. This entire process will unify both churches and ensure that church discrimination is minimized if not completely eliminated.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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