While many pastors and church leaders may draw encouragement from the diverse group of people who assemble to praise God in Revelation 7:9, not all can say the same assortment of members fill their pews.
Having a congregation that mirrors that heavenly scene was part of what motivated Ricky Garner, of Tyler, to start a multicultural, multiethnic church at 504 W. 32nd St.
The announcement of Garner’s plans to open Hope Church came at the same time leaders at Bethel Bible Church were discussing the possibility of launching such a campus. Before his announcement, Garner’s name was even mentioned by leaders at Bethel as being perfect to head a multicultural, multiethnic congregation.
After months of meetings, planning and prayer, on Feb. 10 Bethel Hope officially launched with an attendance of 250 people from various backgrounds and races.
“It’s so much of a greater witness — to the world and to the community — when the community can look at the church and see that the church is living out what they say they are,” said Garner, the church’s pastor.
“We are not just saying we should unite together, but then on Sunday morning we don’t look like that,” he said. “We want to break that mold and began to unite together even on Sunday.”
From the outset, leaders have focused on attracting and catering to a mix of people by acknowledging differences in cultures and encouraging congregants to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
“You will have people who will stand up and say amen and raise their hands and they will be standing next to somebody who’s sitting with their arms crossed in quiet reflection,” Fritz Hager, executive pastor at Bethel Bible Church, said. “When we talk about shared discomfort, there will be people who will respond in ways that are not customary in terms of what my experience might be, but if you go and look at Revelation 7:9 and look at what heaven looks like — every tribe, every nation, every tongue worshipping the lamb with their differences maintained yet completely unified in their worship.
“That’s really what we’re aiming for here on earth in Tyler, Texas,” he said.
Garner said pastoring the church has caused him to examine which illustrations he might use during a message or how he may choose to relay a point. Songs may range from traditional hymns to contemporary Christian music.
As Tyler grows, the church hopes to be able to cater to even more cultures.
“The goal is to come together, to reconcile, to unite around the Gospel and to build community and relationships with people that maybe we would have never had a chance to meet,” he said. “Doing that in the church setting, where we’re worshipping God and doing God’s work, just makes it all the more a great thing.”