David Jones is white. He grew up in the South, went to Bible college in the South, and married his high school sweetheart. Rafael Gonzalez is of Puerto Rican heritage. He grew up in the Northeast, excelled in high school football and basketball, and came to faith in Christ at age 28. Joy Bey is African-American. She grew up in South Central Los Angeles, was saved in a Pentecostal church, and served in overseas missions before spending five years on staff at a megachurch in Southern California. Together, they make up the unlikely core of the ministry staff at Relentless Church—“a gospel-centered, forever-focused, multiethnic movement of God” located in Cary, North Carolina
Planting on Common Ground
While Jones, Gonzalez, and Bey share little common heritage, they have one important thing in common: All three grew up in a multiethnic culture where their day-to-day lives included interactions with people of various races and backgrounds.
“As a kid, my school was diverse,” Jones said. “My sports teams were diverse. The only place that wasn’t diverse growing up was my church youth group.”
Gonzalez’s story is similar.
“Growing up, my whole life was multiethnic. That’s just how life was for me,” he said. “Then I became a Christian, and it seemed like Sunday was the only area of my life that was not integrated.”
The dream for a multiethnic church began in 2009, when Jones attended a joint worship service combining black and white congregations in North Carolina at Christmas. That interracial nativity service was a one-time event, but it left Jones wondering: What if multiethnic worship was a normal, regular occurrence for Christian churches? What if it was the rule, not the exception? Those questions quickly turned to conviction.
“What Jesus accomplished on the cross made me family with any believer of any race,” Jones said. “If we are family, why be segregated by skin tone?”
Jones and Gonzalez met around that same time, when they served together on a church staff in Kentucky. As their friendship grew, they attended a multiethnic church conference together and discussed the possibility of planting a multiethnic church in Jones’s home state of North Carolina.
After years of praying and planning, Jones left Kentucky in 2014 to begin the work of planting this new church. Despite his intentions, he initially found it difficult to assemble a truly diverse core group. Just six months before the scheduled launch of Relentless Church, Jones recalls that the only nonwhite people in the group were his two adopted children!
Despite the initial challenges, Jones persisted with his vision. Five weeks before Relentless Church’s first service, a mature Christian man who happened to be African-American agreed to join the core team. That was the beginning of the “gospel-centered, forever-focused, multiethnic movement of God” Jones had envisioned for the new church. That man is still a leader at Relentless.
Now, nearly four years later, Jones, Gonzales, and Bey continue to focus on the vision of building a multiethnic congregation—because as Jones said, “The Bible commands it. This is God’s plan. This is how God gets glory.”
The Gospel of Multiethnicity
Jones speaks boldly about reconciliation.
“Multiethnic church is not a fad; it is a return to the God-given design for his church. According to the biblical standard, we were never meant to be segregated.”
Jones believes “a by-product of the gospel is that we will be a church united across racial, political, and economic lines.” He cites passages from Genesis, Matthew, Acts, Galatians, Revelation, and others to make his point. One of his favorite references is Ephesians 2:11-22, which describes the racial reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul writes, in part,
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (vv. 13-16, English Standard Version).
Still, uniting people of different backgrounds around the gospel—especially in the racially charged and politically divided culture of 21st-century America—is not easy. Jones said plainly, “Unity is a spiritual war.”
Growing and Worshipping Together
Even for people like Jones and Gonzalez, who grew up in multicultural communities, participating in a truly diverse church required them to adjust and adapt.
“It’s easy to create a diverse crowd,” Jones said. “Our goal was never to create a diverse group of people sitting in a theater together; the movie industry and sports events accomplish that every day. We are intentionally pursuing a multiethnic community of faith. Ephesians calls it a family.”
Jones often quotes a well-known phrase in the multiethnic movement: “You will never be multiethnic on Sunday morning until you are multiethnic on Saturday night.”
Gonzalez said it a different way.
“Since coming to Relentless, my dinner table has completely changed,” he said. “I’ve shared meals with more people of different races in the past six months than I did in the previous six years.”
That “power of proximity,” as Jones calls it, has allowed the people of Relentless to grow closer by truly getting to know one another and carrying each other’s burdens.
Jones and Gonzalez both said one major obstacle was that very few of the people at Relentless had ever been taught by a pastor of a different race.
“I don’t think any of our white people had ever participated in a Bible study with an African-American leader before coming to this church,” Jones said. “I know I hadn’t.”
Naturally, everyone brings their own background and perspective to reading Scripture. This disparity is exaggerated in a multicultural church where people have such vastly different life experiences. At Relentless, the congregation is committed to what Jones calls “the hard work of listening to and loving each other through relationship.” He said, “You have to have the humility to see things differently, but be united around the gospel.”
Joy Bey said this applies not just to the congregation, but the leadership as well. In her experience, “to succeed as a multicultural church, you have to have different voices at the table making decisions. Otherwise, it’s easy to become a diverse congregation with a staff that is not.”
One unexpected benefit of planting a multiethnic church is the absence of “worship wars.” Jones said he “downplays the music issue,” because Relentless Church tends to attract people he calls “untold and unconvinced.”
For unchurched people, in his experience, the style of worship music is not an issue—even when those unchurched people come from different races and ethnicities. As a result, the worship music at Relentless does not conform to any particular style. For those who do have strong preferences about worship styles, the culture of Relentless Church encourages them to compromise.
“In a multiethnic church, everyone sacrifices some ego and personal taste for the good of the cause,” Jones said. Music is just one example.
The Right Decision
On opening day, 80 people attended Relentless Church. Sunday worship attendance has roughly tripled since then, but Jones does not take credit for the church’s growth. “God has made us a multiethnic church,” he said.
Gonzales agrees. “God has been showing us that we made the right decision.”
By every objective measure, Relentless Church is thriving. Baptisms are increasing, the newly formed student ministry is growing, and the church’s sermon series are creating honest, open conversations between believers and nonbelievers. Still, the leadership team believes their calling is even greater.
“We are watching God create his own people, his own family, by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Jones said.
And, as a result, Gonzales said, “I feel this peace that I’m right smack in the middle of God’s will.”
Jones feels it, too. He senses God has called him to this ministry of reconciliation. He knows, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
That belief drives David Jones and the team at Relentless Church. It also inspired the name.
“God is relentless,” Jones said. “He hasn’t given up on anybody.”
David Jones’s “Four Ls” of Multiethnic Ministry
David Jones, church planter and lead pastor of Relentless Church, shares “The Four Ls” that he has found to be essential when leading a multiethnic church.
Leadership: You must pray for and seek and trust that God will provide multiethnic leadership. We have an African-American and two Latinos on our five-member staff. Some might think we went and hired them because of their race. The truth is, we knew healthy multiethnic leadership is crucial for a healthy multiethnic church, and we prayed for God to send who was best. He is simply fulfilling his will for his church.
Love: Love conquers all. So much of what has been done and said on the issue of race in our country, and even in the church, would be impossible if we truly loved people. The basic question is: Do you love another person enough to hear their story and learn from it? If I don’t love, I won’t learn, which means I won’t change and the church will stay segregated against God’s will.
Language: Learn the language of Ephesians 2, verbally reinforce the multiethnic movement, and use common language and common phrases across different sections of your church..
Lifestyle: We must live on the same street, visit each other’s houses for dinner, hang out, and go on vacations together. A church that is diverse in its Sunday gathering but segregated in its friendships is dangerous! It’s not about attending a multiethnic church; it’s about living a multiethnic lifestyle so that multiethnic church is the only type of church that matches the rest of your week.
About the writer
Justin Horey is a writer, musician, and the founder of Livingstone Marketing. He lives in Southern California.This article originally appeared in the July 2018 edition of the Christian Standard, reprinted with permission.