By Carl Stagner
The culture of your community has shifted over the past five, ten, perhaps twenty years. The shift may have been gradual, but somehow you feel blindsided. Your church probably has three choices: adapt with the culture, relocate to another culture, or continue a futile fight against it. Adapting to the culture doesn’t mean changing the message or compromising principles; only the methods change when Jesus is the subject. Crossroads of Life Church of God in Byram, Mississippi, had to make a decision as they watched their community’s culture shift dramatically, largely over the past decade alone. But they’ve chosen to stay put, and they’re certainly glad they did.
What’s happened lately in the Crossroads of Life congregation and the surrounding community only happened because God’s hand was in it. Pastor Trey Hammond explains: “Over the past several years, our community has been transitioning culturally, from a small-town community with predominantly Caucasian families, to an official city and a community with a majority of African American families. It has been a unique transition, in that demographics aren’t that different in socioeconomics, finances, education, and family. What is different is race percentages, and specifically a sense of identity, which helps to establish community.”
Pastor Trey has led the church to be proactive rather than reactive to the shift. They’re not sitting idly by while relevance to the community, not to mention souls, are lost. Through open gym, community basketball leagues, summer camps, visits to visitors’ homes, and evangelistic and prayer outreach events, they’re demonstrating that what matters is that which is on the inside—not what people look like. Trey explains, “At Crossroads of Life, we believe the Lord has called to be just that—a place that receives people at a crossroads in their life.” Referring to the safe, inviting opportunity open gym provides children and youth, he continues, “We are intentional to meet and grow in relationship with parents, as well…We say it often that this is a warm and friendly place where everyone is a ten! As a part of our New Beginnings class, we teach that being a part of our church culture is vital to the next generation in how we model welcoming others. Our expectation is that everyone welcomes someone. But what’s awesome is that there’s a majority who welcome many.”
Community outreach alone isn’t sufficient to reach a changing culture, though. At Crossroads of Life, there’s much more to it. Church leadership has had to adapt to reach the culture and represent the diversity of the body of Christ. Trey explains, “One of the ways leadership changes have helped to improve health and unity has been in the selection of ministry coordinators, coaches, and elders of both black and white, men and women, in roles that oversee ministry areas within the four walls of the church.” Citing Ephesians 4:11–16 and 1 Corinthians 12, Trey continues, “From greeters to team leaders, coaches and elder leadership, we have openly and intentionally pursued diversity, believing that every individual is not only a valuable person in the body, but necessary to bring their God-given gifts and ministry function to be used to edify and build up the church, until we all reach unity in the spirit and maturity in Christ.”
Across the country, Southern states aren’t always the first examples that come to mind of racial reconciliation and unity. But at Crossroads of Life Church of God, it’s different. Very different. Piece by piece, these Jesus people are breaking down barriers. The Byram congregation goes out of their way to develop friendships with civic groups, including those which reflect multiple cultures. Such groups meet monthly on the campus of Crossroads of Life, knowing they are loved and accepted.
“We welcome everyone,” Trey explains. “No matter the color of skin, people are people. Everyone who comes on our campus is seen with value. This is the heart of Jesus.”
In Byram, Mississippi, across the United States, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Reach our world. Donate today at http://www.jesusisthesubject.org/reach-our-world-fund/.