Faith Communities Today's 2010 national survey suggested that the nation's growing immigrant population is "by and large, creating its own congregations rather than participating in historically white congregations." The multifaith coalition's 2010 FACT report also noted that racial/ethnic minority congregations are: disproportionately Evangelical Protestant or Non-Christian; disproportionately urban and Southern ("if you include the historically black denominations, Western for other racial/ethnic groups"); more contemporary in worship styles; and theologically more moderate to liberal.
While multiethnic congregations are emerging, there simply are just not enough churches in the U.S., and communities are in need of services that the Church is uniquely equipped to provide, according to Jackson and his team.
"Only about 17.7 percent of the United States actually goes to church," said Murren. "All the polls say 45 percent, but the more realistic polls are around 17.7 percent, so there really aren't enough churches."
He added that "church planting is one of the main ways the culture gets evangelized."
Hope Connexion Church as a Future Model
Murren, a former megachurch pastor who has been involved in ministry for about 30 years, is helping to rally support for Hope Connexion in Orlando, of which Jackson serves as lead pastor. Hope Connexion – the "x" will appear as a cross in the church logo – is being developed less than 30 minutes from Orlando in the Lake Nona-area, a community under redevelopment to become a major medical, educational and research hub, according to its property owners. The 7,000-acre "master planned community" is home to about 21,000 residents, most of whom are white, followed by a strong Hispanic population, a smaller black population and an even smaller Asian population. Based on a 2012 U.S. Census estimate, Orange County, to which Lake Nona belongs, included a population of 1.2 million people. In 2011, 70 percent of the population was white, 27.5 percent of Hispanic or Latino origin, 21.7 percent black, and 5.2 percent Asian. According to Murren, Lake Nona reflects the demographics of the general county.
Hope Connexion Orlando is also less than an hour's drive from Sanford, where black teen Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by a white, Hispanic neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. The case, like the one that occurred months later involving the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Jordan Davis by white gun collector Michael David Dunn, led to observers alleging racism as a factor, in addition to decrying Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law.
It is in tense, divisive situations like these where the Christian Church should be most present, said Jackson, who described race as "one of the remaining major frontiers for both the Church and Society." He believes that once the Christian Church fully incarnates the biblical vision of unity in diversity, it can be used by God as an instrument for social reformation, and Murren agrees.
"In the area, we want to develop a church life that is multiethnic and multiracial," explained Murren. "Some parts of the Orlando-area, such as Sanford up north and other areas, there's been a lot of racial tension, a lot of segregation. One of the things we feel that God has brought us here for is to be a healing to that. We also want to be an incubator for developing other ministries into the area, so one of the things we're going to be doing is having a ministry institute here as well that will equip people in answering practical needs in the community."
"One of the things we really believe in is equipping every person in the church to be emissaries of the kingdom of God where they are," he added. "So we see a church that would be involved in practical acts of kindness and developing the ministries that would reach people who are passionately concerned about the customary social issues of evangelical churches which is abortion, we're concerned about that. We're concerned about marriage, life and we're also very concerned about the poor."
Jackson added, "One of our goals would be, as we're known, as we're winning souls, as we're serving people, is that we also would help the residential community and the church community come together."
In anticipation of Hope Connexion Orlando's September pre-event and full January 2014 launch, Jackson, Murren and the High Impact Leadership Coalition's Powell are pulling together a core group of local leaders and community members who share their vision of developing and growing a righteousness-and-justice-minded multiethnic congregation.
Jackson's team has organized preview events and is developing music and child ministry teams in anticipation of the launch. Murren added that there were several churches in the area that have been offering encouragement and praying with them, such as First Baptist Church of Orlando, a 14-000 member congregation.
Murren, noted for founding a church of 10 in his living room that eventually grew to 8,000 members, has lent his services to about 123 church plants and brings 12 years of leadership training and church growth and planting experience to the ICEC project. He also serves as the new plant's campus pastor/ministry director.
Top on Murren's list of requirements for developing a strong church plant are having a "good, clear vision" and a "strong core of people who are committed to the vision." He also emphasized the need for an authentic and open environment that is accepting and forgiving.
While acknowledging the good being accomplished by already established faith communities in the Orlando-area and expressing a desire to join alongside them in their work, Bishop Jackson said he is looking to inspire sociocultural reformation and racial reconciliation that could inspire the nation, much like Martin Luther King Jr. did 60 years ago during the Civil Rights movement that started in Montgomery, Ala., and led several years later to the March on Washington.
King, who managed to bring together Americans of all stripes to fight against social and racial injustices, is often credited with declaring that he found it "appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o'clock on Sunday morning."
"Very much the healing of the race problem and any other problem has got to begin with the Church being healed from her own prejudice, the Church learning how to receive each other and work together. As we do that, John 17 says that when we're one, the world will know that the Father sent Jesus. There's a corporate witness that will come to the Orlando-area as the Church, not just the Hope Connexion in Orlando. When the whole church works together there will be a witness to the reality of Christ," said Jackson.
"I really feel as though that's exactly what we need to do," added Powell. "Basically, when we can start worshiping together, no one can bring up that line that Sunday is the most segregated day. When we can stop saying that, then we've accomplished something. Right now that's what we want to do in Orlando, we want to be an example."