How Garfield Memorial Church in Ohio Turned a Multiethnic Corner
Through the years, Garfield Memorial had become a well-established United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. By 2001, however, membership, attendance on Sunday mornings and children’s ministry participation were in decline, and the future of the church was in jeopardy. At the time, according to Pastor Chip Freed, the congregation was 99 percent white, and most attendees lived in affluent neighborhoods. He knew then that turnaround would depend on systemic change and, more specifically, transitioning his church to living color.
By the end of 2004, Pastor Freed had led the church to embrace culture shift along three fronts by:
* Renewing its commitment to the Great Commission
* Determining to become outwardly focused
* Embracing the vision of becoming multiethnic and economically diverse
To effect transition, Pastor Freed implemented systemic change with the following strategies:
Developing a New Statement of Purpose
To reposition itself in the community, and to clarify new vision and values, the church adopted this statement:
“Garfield Memorial is a safe place to search and grow in faith in a very authentic way amid a diverse community of all people groups. We are not a perfect church, therefore we will be a community of the nonoffensive and unoffended, and offer and practice forgiveness wherever it is required.”
Promoting a Spirit of Inclusion in Worship
The church enlisted a variety of competent worship leaders to deliver a high quality, varied musical experience on Sunday mornings. In so doing, the music and vibe began to appeal to a more demographically diverse and unchurched audience and made it easier for first-time visitors to connect.
Empowering a Diverse Leadership Team
The church began to hire and otherwise empower diverse leaders to reflect and represent the changing demographics of its community.
As a result, Garfield Memorial began again to flourish and has continued to grow over the last 10 years. In 2004, there were approximately 450 active members, with 200 regularly attending Sunday morning worship and only 15 participating in children’s ministry. Today the church has some 1,100 active members, with over 600 people attending worship each week and 150 children participating on two campuses. More than this, Garfield Memorial is now known as one of the most multiethnic and economically diverse churches in Ohio, in which the largest single ethnic group comprises no more than 52 percent of the congregation. Because of its ethnically and economically diverse witness it is having a significant impact in the city of Cleveland.
Within its denomination, too, Garfield Memorial is helping to change attitudes and understanding. According to Pastor Freed, most of the multiethnic and economically diverse churches that do exist in the United Methodist Church are located in downtown or urban settings. In these churches, members from the suburbs typically drive into the city in order to live on mission with the poor. Garfield Memorial, however, is located in a highly affluent suburban area of Cleveland and it’s the urban poor who are commuting in order to be part of this unique community of faith. This has not only caught the attention of denominational leaders, but shows that suburban churches can effectively transition to living color.
Like the Apostle Paul, Pastor Freed and the people of Garfield Memorial have determined to become all things to all men so that by all means they might win some from every kind of people group (I Cor. 9:19-23). Through structural change, strategic marketing, community engagement, random acts of kindness and intentional mission, the church has become as diverse as the community it seeks to reach with a message of God’s love for all people. Like fishermen in the New Testament, it has thrown out its net on the east side of Cleveland looking not only for one kind of fish, but to catch the diverse array of fish living within a 15- to 20-mile radius of its facility. In order to present a credible witness of God’s love for all people in a rapidly changing society, many more pastors with the heart and vision of Pastor Freed are needed.
Mark DeYmaz is the founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a co-founder of the Mosaix Global Network.