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A unique form of teamwork joins diverse congregations

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How can two churches, separated by culture, distance and leadership styles, form a partnership that would strengthen both churches and impact both communities? Is it feasible that a mutual love for Christ would be enough to overcome the numerous challenges of working together for Kingdom advancement?

A Tale of Two Cities

Friendship Alliance Church (FAC) was planted in 1988 in Auburn Township, Ohio, a small but growing and prosperous community about 40 miles from downtown Cleveland. Stately pines surround the cluster of beautiful homes and businesses, and most of the township’s 5,000 residents can enjoy meadows and woodlands just minutes from their homes. The Lord has blessed FAC with its first newly constructed building, which was dedicated in December 2008. The church has been without a senior pastor for three years and currently is not looking for one. A youth pastor has been added to the team recently, joining a group of elders who have provided capable leadership and shepherding.

Hope Alliance Bible Church (HABC), where I am the lead pastor and church planter, was established in October 1995. Its location—Maple Heights, Ohio—is an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. This under-resourced community struggles to retain stable families and property values, has far too many empty houses and is experiencing a rapidly declining school system. In 1997, this young church obtained a former Slovenian party hall and slowly renovated the building to make it more suitable for public worship.

HABC is a predominately African-American congregation, while FAC is nearly exclusively Caucasian. Both churches are intentionally open to diversity, yet community demographics make it more difficult for FAC to attract worshipers from different cultures.

Relationships Grow

A longstanding friendship between Terry Tung, an elder at FAC, and me led to regular discussions of what was going on in both churches. We soon realized that we had an opportunity to impact our congregations by sharing resources in a unique way.

I began meeting with the leaders of FAC, giving pastoral input and providing homiletical coaching for the elders who were taking turns preaching. Then I taught a leadership class under the auspices of Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Ill.), where leaders from both congregations received continuing education credits. Joint leadership training will be an ongoing growth opportunity for both congregations. Also, I serve as ordination mentor for FAC youth pastor Dominic Cote.

As joint leadership meetings continued, the churches began to plan many ministry events together. Men’s retreats, women’s conferences, outreach events and church picnics are being coordinated between the two churches. What a wonderful way to tear down long-existing misunderstandings and build bridges.

Caring for the Community

In February 2008, HABC formed The Alliance for Family Hope, Inc. (AFH), a separate, tax-exempt community development corporation. The goal is to transform the community surrounding the church and reverse the pattern of deterioration and instability. Our mission is to build essential physical, mental, emotional and spiritual assets into the families in the Southeast Cleveland area. Some of the programs had been operational by HABC for a few years, and others are slowly being implemented by AFH. The board of this corporation comprises members from both churches, along with other Christian friends.

For nearly 10 years, HABC has been operating an after-school program for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade. We offer a family style meal, tutoring, computer lab educational training, Bible lessons, arts and crafts, recreational activities and mentoring. Teens from FAC join with members from HABC to mentor and tutor the children who attend the HABC summer programs and after-school ministries. AFH carries the same ministry into the summer with a day camp program that includes field trips.

Boys to Men and Sister to Sister are mentoring programs AFH is developing to help teens, particularly those identified as at-risk children, to have spiritual and relational guidance through every aspect of life so they can make positive contributions to society and have a Kingdom impact.

Yielded Life Fellowship, already running for the last three years, is a Christ-centered recovery program for various addictive practices. An adult literacy program will help at-risk and impoverished adults receive training for jobs and parenting skills. Our tax-preparation ministry is a free service to moderate income families performed by trained volunteers at our church computer lab. We have seen a spiritual harvest by meeting and ministering to people coming to our building to have their taxes prepared.

Joey and Deonna, a young couple in their mid-twenties, had been married for only a couple of months when they came to our church to get their taxes filed by our volunteers. A committed marriage was something that neither of them had seen very often, yet it was what they both wanted. We had never seen them before they walked in. Part of our strategy is to have members available to serve refreshments and welcome everyone who is waiting for their paperwork to be processed, which might take an hour or so. I had the opportunity to talk with them at length during their first visit, and other members also made a favorable impression.

As I was making an announcement the next morning, telling our congregation to pray for this young couple, I saw them entering the sanctuary. I introduced them to our congregation, which really helped them feel accepted. They began to attend regularly and developed friendships among our members. Nearly a year later, they shared their public professions of faith in Christ, and both were baptized on the same day during our Sunday worship service. They continue to grow in Christ and participate in our marriage ministry.

One Lord, One Faith

Members of both congregations feel welcome to worship at either location, and leaders at both churches have been teaching systematically from the Gospel of Luke for nearly two years. As we move forward, speakers from both churches will become involved in preaching at the other location. Our governing boards and leadership teams have agreed to continue to work together. Some of our goals for our strategic partnership are Kingdom advancement (Matt. 28:18–20), community development and transformation (Jer. 29:7) and leadership development (1 Peter 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 4:12–16).

In essence, two different churches, with two different leadership teams and styles—and no intention of becoming one church in two locations—are learning the truth about being one church in the way the Lord Jesus Christ has already ordained (John 17:11). We believe it is long past time for urban and suburban churches to partner in ways that maximize the assets of both congregations, and broaden the impact in both communities. Token fellowship events may soothe our consciences about involvement with other ethnic groups, but the Church is far behind the curve when it comes to really working together for Kingdom advancement.

As Friendship Alliance Church and Hope Alliance Bible Church flesh out the rich meanings of their church names, friendships are being formed that are changing lives, and hope is being restored in a difficult ministry context. Isn’t it time more of us began to color outside the lines and paint a more beautiful picture of Christianity?

Past Alliance Life Issues

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