Pastors Launch Church-Planting Network for ‘Black and Brown Neighborhoods’

Image: Courtesy of Thabiti Anyabwile
Image: Courtesy of Thabiti Anyabwile

A team of pastors including Thabiti Anyabwile and John Onwuchekwa have launched a new network—The Crete Collective—to support church planters focused on black, Hispanic, and Asian American communities.

The network represents a move to bring more people of color into leadership for church-planting initiatives and to focus more missional attention toward poor and underserved urban areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities.

“The Crete Collective would place at the center of its work the concerns, ideals, aspirations, frustrations, struggles, and realities of black and brown neighborhoods in all of their diversity,” said founding president Thabiti Anyabwile, a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC.

“We would enthusiastically encourage the kind of holistic discipleship that sees gospel preaching and justice as siblings rather than as enemies. We’ve got a whole range of issues that we have to care about in our communities … immigration challenges, prison reform, hunger, homeownership.”

While major networks have worked for years to make church planting more diverse in the United States—a majority of Southern Baptist church plants, for example, are multiethnic or non-Anglo—the movement overall remains disproportionately white. It also tends to concentrate new churches in places with the most existing churches.

Len Tang, the director of church planting at Fuller Theological Seminary, called plans for a network led by and for black, Hispanic, and Asian American pastors “so timely and relevant.”

“Much of the modern church-planting movement has primarily been white and suburban and male. Over the last generation, there’s been—like in much of evangelicalism—a healthy diversification of that focus,” said Tang, a pastor in California.

“There’s been a recognition that a lot of that comes out of some of the wealthy white suburban churches and has not really paid attention to the huge demographic changes happening in our country and, as we’ve seen even in this last year of racial unrest, the need for racial justice in the area of church planting.”

Tensions for Pastors of Color

The Crete Collective came from Anyabwile’s conversations with fellow pastors who didn’t have an official place to go with their questions about starting and pastoring churches in communities of color.

Its formation also stems from some of the challenges for pastors in white-led or white-majority denominations and groups, where leaders can be nervous or even antagonistic about bringing justice issues into the life of the church.

“When you think of the larger networks, you have many black and brown leaders frustrated with the experience of trying to be included and at the same time, you have the larger network itself—as Korie Edwards put it—living this ‘elusive dream,’ not quite achieving the diversity it was hoping for,” he said. “We’ve had common experiences with wider networks that have left us more convinced that if we don’t partner to do this, this won’t get done.”

Edwards, an Ohio State University sociologist who studies diversity in religious leadership, refers to pastors of color in diverse church settings as “estranged pioneers.” She found that they feel the tension of not feeling valued among whites in their congregations nor among members of their own ethnic group.

Onwuchekwa, a founding board member of the Crete Collective, said his former denomination “never really felt like home,” when he described his decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) last summer.

He originally launched Cornerstone Church in Atlanta in 2015 through the SBC. Despite the support from friends and leaders, as a black pastor Onwuchekwa ultimately saw himself as an outlier in a denomination that he believed didn’t do enough to address its racist past nor racism in the present-day.

Cornerstone is continuing to serve the West End, where Onwuchekwa has also cofounded a coffee business to help bring jobs to the neighborhood.

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Source: Christianity Today