By Matthew McGue
After planting a multiethnic, community-impacting church in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2004, God clearly called my wife and me to plant another intentional multiethnic church in Jackson, Mississippi. We launched One Church on March 23, 2014.
Planting an intentional, multiethnic, gospel-centered, community-impacting church in a very traditional, Deep South city with historic segregation might seem crazy. It can be even more challenging as a Northerner, affectionately referred to as a “Damn Yankee,” with no local relationship connections. As a church planter, you had better be sure the Lord is calling you to a specific place, especially when the odds are against you from the beginning. When we moved in to our apartment in the summer of 2013, we desperately needed God to lead our every step.
We immediately sensed God was positioning us and divinely appointing us to meet people who were ready to hear and follow the vision for this new, seemingly radical approach to church. Within our first couple of months, we gained favor with the mayor, police, school officials, business leaders, and pastors. We started to host dinners and gatherings in our living room, and we began to dream and pray about a new multiethnic church for our city.
We started with seven people: four white, two black, and one Latino. Today we average 125 souls and are 65 percent black, 9 percent brown (Latino), and 26 percent pigment deficient (white). We are also very socially and economically diverse, with several single parents and more than half of our church members living in apartments. Nationally, only 7 percent of apartment dwellers are connected to a local church, so we prayed for God to help us see how we might reach out to the 11,000 apartment dwellers in our local zip code.
As we assessed the needs of our city and listened to those God was already using to make a difference, we stepped out in faith to purchase a 1987 ice cream truck, which we converted into what we call the “HOPE Truck.” The HOPE Truck opens up relationships with at-risk children and their families.
We drive into apartment communities where the greatest needs exist, passing out free ice cream, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, school supplies, bicycle helmets, and more. The children come running when they see the truck and hear the ice cream music blaring. We park the truck and unload a portable playground so we can spend time hanging out with the children and their parents. After playing, we share a Bible story and prayer time, giving away Bibles and invitations to church. We are working to address the “lostness” of our zip code, and we want every child to have a church.
The HOPE Truck has given our new church instant credibility in our city. People absolutely love the truck and invite us to join in various community events and school and city functions. Local businesses like Fresh Market and Walmart have become sponsors of our outreach efforts. We don’t just want to be a church that looks like Heaven, we want to act like Heaven by answering the Lord’s Prayer to bring Heaven to earth.
As we celebrate our second year as a church, I find myself meeting with the governor, state legislators, and the state superintendent of schools to discuss early childhood education. I’ve been having breakfast with the mayor to work on city issues and meeting with faith-based leaders to address the reform needed in our criminal justice system. Justice and the gospel are married . . . they are front and center in a multiethnic church.
We may be a small church plant, but we have a big vision with incredible citywide influence. We believe in order for the Restoration Movement to move again, we must pray, repent, and plant more truly New Testament (intentionally multiethnic) churches throughout the nation.
Matthew McGue is a church planter and pastor with One Church, Jackson, Mississippi.