Intentionally International: Cincinnati Church Reflects Community’s Diversity
By Carl Stagner
Dayspring Church didn’t become a picture of the beautiful diversity of its community—and the kingdom of heaven—overnight. Neither did it happen by accident. The Cincinnati, Ohio, congregation of the Church of God celebrates today the fruit of labor and strategic steps taken over several years to welcome “every nation, tribe, people, and tongue” into their fold. Having become intentionally international in composition, ministry, and mission, Dayspring Church is reflecting the reality of Revelation 7 as it reaches their community with the love and light of Christ.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” —Revelation 7:9 NIV
Pastor Tim Kufeldt responds to the vivid description in Scripture, “What we see in heaven is God’s people worshiping together—every nation, every ethnic group, every color of skin, every language, every kind of people. God’s call, our vision, is to reach all people. No one is left out. No one is excluded. And this…is what the church must look like. I believe there is no other option.”
Dayspring Church has long been a sending church with a heart for global ministries but, for a time, the expression of God’s heart for the world may have come up a little short on their own turf. When Tim arrived on the scene two decades ago, the snapshot of the sanctuary on Sunday morning revealed a primarily homogenous fellowship of folks who tended to look the same, dress the same, speak the same language, and worship God in like fashion. Comparing their demographics with those of the surrounding Cincinnati neighborhoods, the church could find strikingly little resemblance.
“This reality is what attracted me here,” Pastor Tim recalls. “Right out of seminary, I served under Rev. Dr. Sam Hines at the inner-city Third Street Church of God in Washington, DC, which really birthed in my heart the desire for a multicultural congregation.”
Racial tension paralyzing the Cincinnati area in March 2001 coincided with Pastor Tim’s earliest days at Dayspring. “Even as I came the first Sunday, the vision was that we’d grow to reflect our community, demonstrate racial reconciliation, and make a difference in the city.”
But in retrospect, it’s clear that Tim Kufeldt could not fully imagine what God would ultimately do, building upon what the Lord had already accomplished in the congregation over many decades. “My vision was that we’d reach our community,” he explains. “My mind was on reconciliation between Black and white, but God began to bring nations into the church.”
Nations, such as Nigeria. Tim tells the story of how Dayspring began to be home to several families from Nigeria. “At one of our services,” Tim explains, “one man came to the altar whose accent I recognized as Nigerian. I asked him how he ended up stopping by. He said, ‘This my first time here. I drove by the church and saw my flag flying. I figured I would be welcomed.”
Even before the church expanded its multicultural composition dramatically, it began laying the foundation and planting the seeds that would lead to such a shift. Whether the church is home to a certain nationality or the church simply supports a missionary or mission work in another country, the appropriate flag is flown at the church. At one point, a whopping thirty-six countries were represented by its national banner, respectively, on display at the church. As newcomers start attending with background from other countries not yet represented within the congregation, Dayspring Church adds the flag inside the auditorium and rejoices.
Leadership is intentionally diverse; it takes a team—the body of Christ—to get the job done. Pastor Tim recounts partnerships with others whose visionary leadership helped get the necessary changes started, offering perspective only possible from the perspective of a non-white follower of Christ.
In the years since the congregation was open to the Spirit’s leading to diversify, several major developments have expanded the church’s reach and impact. Besides the church’s overseas missions support, Dayspring Church has planted a Spanish-speaking congregation; launched a ministry to persons of Papua New Guinea origin; has welcomed a work for Nepalese Americans. All of these opportunities followed obedience to the Great Commission and deliberate changes of methodology to foster a welcoming atmosphere for everyone.
“The Great Commission required it and our diverse community demanded it,” Tim explains. “If we were going to be faithful to reach our own Jerusalem, we had no other choice but to purposely reach and invite all people, no matter their ethnicity, into our fellowship.”
Further expounding on what he’s identified as the promoting a “spirit of inclusion,” Pastor Tim explains that “Diversity in music is loving people…[we must learn to] appreciate the sounds of worship as expressed by all nations…. Our worship musical style purposefully reflected the style, heart, and language of those in our surrounding communities.”
Even Bible verses translated into the various languages of the congregation are on display above the entrances leading into the sanctuary. Pastor Tim reflects, “A healthy multicultural church will be established by accommodation rather than assimilation. We must not ask or expect diverse others to check their culture at the door to become part of ‘our’ church. Rather it is the responsibility of those who are in Christ to adjust themselves intentionally (their own attitudes and actions)….”
Data collected from the most recent United States Census suggests that God has truly brought about the diversity so long sought. The variety of demographics in the congregation mirror the distribution of ethnicities in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. Their investment in identity is producing dividends: “We are a Christ-centered, ethnically diverse fellowship seeking to model spiritual, racial, generational, and social reconciliation.”
In fact, Pastor Tim insists that reconciliation is what it all comes down to. “God has one agenda: reconciliation,” he insists. “We are to be reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. There is no ‘Plan B.’”
While the various congregations and ministries that make up Dayspring Church cannot always meet together due to language barriers, Dayspring does host regular unity services that visibly and remarkably demonstrate the church Jesus prayed for, died for, and will one day come again to claim.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.