By Jim Nieman
In last week’s Christian Standard newsletter, editor Michael C. Mack mentioned a question asked in response to our January issue: “Should church leaders even bother to concern themselves with racial integration and building a multiethnic congregation?”
Jim Book, senior minister with Kissimmee (Fla.) Christian Church—located in a cultural melting pot region just south of Orlando and right next door to Walt Disney World—provides an interesting viewpoint on that.
“It’s the Day of Pentecost every Sunday at Kissimmee,” Book says.
Kissimmee Christian Church provides multiple services every Sunday that go well beyond two “blended/contemporary” and one “traditional.”
There is also deaf interpretation during the 9:30 a.m. blended/contemporary service. There’s a Sunday morning service in Spanish. There are Haitian/French Creole services on Sunday morning and evening. There’s even a service and hot meal at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday for the region’s homeless population.
On top of these, the church’s ROCK Student Ministry gathers on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings, and a brand-new HOOPS Church is meeting most Thursdays. HOOPS Church is for neighborhood kids, mainly African-American youth, who otherwise would be playing basketball in the local park. The director of HOOPS preaches a 30-minute message during halftime.
The church already was offering an Hispanic service when Book arrived about seven years ago, but Book worked to put that “church” on more solid footing with better support for its leadership. The ministries to the deaf and homeless started shortly thereafter. And the Haitian/French Creole services are a more recent partnership with a Fort Lauderdale church of Christ that alerted KCC to the large population of such folks in the community of Poinciana, right next to Kissimmee.
When Fort Lauderdale church leaders contacted Kissimmee Christian Church seeking advice on possible worship sites, Book told them, “There’s no reason for you to buy property. What would happen if I could give you the chapel?”
A key aspect of that Haitian/French Creole arrangement is that, while it is a partnership with the Fort Lauderdale church, the onsite leaders work under KCC’s eldership.
In fact, Book said, that should be the arrangement whenever a church wants to use an existing church’s facilities.
“For our movement to grow, we can’t just be satisfied to let another church use our facility.” He said it’s important to sit down with the other church’s leaders and explain about the Restoration Movement, and our model and doctrine. . . . That’s a reason our movement grew so quickly early on, Book said.
Kissimmee Christian Church follows the motto: “Multiple languages, multiple cultures. One church, one eldership.” The various people groups are still able to minister and worship creatively and in culture-specific ways using their music and their language. But the result is a stronger, more biblical framework and greater unity among all those who attend the church.
Of course, there are challenges when combining many cultures, as one can imagine: signage, communication, scheduling, and transportation needs, among others. But there’s a spirit of cooperation and love that binds and helps KCC overcome obstacles and move forward together.
“It’s been amazing how this church has responded.”
Maintaining oversight of various ministries—especially to the homeless—extends further than many churches are accustomed.
“The homeless have needs that we cannot meet in a regular service,” Book said.
Four times a year, KCC “guts the downstairs” and invites in a “multiplicity of government agencies” to hook up their computer systems within the church. This allows for a “one-stop shopping” approach where homeless folks and others who are in need are able to get replacement copies of their Social Security cards and birth certificates and other identification so they can receive benefits and housing and other help that the government and agencies offer, while also applying for jobs and other placement.
“When we run it out of our church, the church should be in charge,” Book said. And this great service to the homeless and those in need of everyday basics has evolved from the commitment to provide a meal and a worship service (and other help) every Sunday morning. Church workers and volunteers also go out to minister to the homeless population one day a week.
Kissimmee Christian Church has expanded its vision in a very natural way, Book said, by serving people in its community whom the church should be serving.
Book said he has no special training that has helped foster multicultural growth in his church. (He notes his previous ministry was with First Christian Church in Winter Park, Fla., an upper-income area.) It’s really been a matter of seeing a need or opportunity, and then responding to it. In fact, he said, if he—“a Southern boy from Virginia”—can do it, any church leader can do it.
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.