The Common Good
February 2010

Five Questions for Rev. Efrem Smith

by Elizabeth Palmberg | February 2010

Bio: Author of The Hip-Hop Church; Senior ...

Bio: Author of The Hip-Hop Church; Senior pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.
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  1. Sanctuary Covenant has a “vision to be an urban, multiethnic, relevant, holistic, Christ-centered community.” When is a moment you experienced that? We adopted a school a couple years ago, sending volunteers to tutor kids, and we found out that there were a number of kids from a homeless shelter. We didn’t have the wherewithal to address their housing challenges, but we wanted to make sure that those kids went to school with dignity, and so we provided brand-new backpacks, school supplies, and winter coats, boots, and mittens for all of them. To be able to partner with the school in that way—and that opened doors for us to connect with some of the parents—to me, that’s really what we’re about.
  2. What’s one thing that has really surprised you? I wasn’t expecting when we started this urban church in Minneapolis that we’d have such a response from white evangelicals, in terms of attendance and membership. When we first started, our church was almost 70 percent white. The majority of them were between the ages of 19 and 35, and were clearly evangelical, but had such a passion for social justice and social change. Now we’re more like 50 percent white and 40 percent black, 10 percent Asian and Latino. I was surprised by how many European Americans saw Sanctuary Covenant Church as a place they would want to call home.
  3. What is the biggest challenge you and Sanctuary Covenant experience now? One of our challenges is moving beyond just a multiracial experience of worship to truly building deep community with one another—so that we’re not just sitting next to each other on Sunday morning, but we’re really engaging in each other’s lives, meeting each other’s needs, supporting each other in growing in God in a deep way.
  4. How are you trying to meet that challenge? One way is through our small group ministry. It’s bigger than just praying or studying the Word together. How do we get together so that, as a multicultural church, we’re being blessed by being in a deeper relationship with people who are different from us?
  5. Do you have any tips for building a multiracial congregation? In the very beginning, we had potluck meals together, where we were intentional about inviting people of different ethnic backgrounds. We invited them to bring a dish that represented their heritage, their culture, their upbringing. We would eat together, sharing each other’s food, but also share stories from our backgrounds.

    I encouraged us to digest one another’s stories at the same level that we were willing to digest each others’ foods. I think to have a healthy, growing multicultural church, it has to begin in smaller groups building authentic relationships and really sharing and receiving each others’ stories.
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