There aren’t a lot of places where worship leaders of diverse congregations can have conversations about the intersection of faith, worship, leadership and race. So, we decided to make one and share it with all who care to listen in to the conversation!
Madison Church was started in 1915 by Dutch-Speaking Christians from the Christian Reformed denomination who wanted to reach newcomers to their city with the gospel. English-speaking migrants from Appalachia were settling by hundreds and thousands in shanty-towns surrounding the furniture factories of Grand Rapids, and Madison Chapel was started to welcome them to the city.
While the location of Madison Chapel changed over the decades, it remained a presence in the Madison Square neighborhood.
In the 1960’s, the practice of red-lining was challenged and African Americans began moving into the Madison Square and surrounding neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. Racial prejudice and race-riots shook the city. Many historically white congregations abandoned the city, moving with their congregations to the newer suburbs. However, the church at Madison Chapel remained. True to their roots, they became a congregation of both blacks and whites, changing as the neighborhood changed, and developed a worship style that reflected the changing demographic and musical heritages of its congregants. During this period, the church developed a co-pastorate model, sharing leadership power between two pastors: one black, one white. In the late 1970’s, a larger sanctuary became available after being abandoned by one of the many churches fleeing the inner city. The congregation voted to take a risk, buying the building, to establish a larger permanent presence in the neighborhood. On the Sunday in which they had their occupancy permit, they walked from Madison Chapel to their newly acquired building (which they named Madison Square Church) singing the gospel standard “We’ve Come This Far By Faith”. They have remained in this location to this day.
In the decades that followed, Madison Square Church continued to grow from a tiny congregation of dozens to a congregation of over a thousand. As they grew, they continued to improvise and experiment with models of staffing and worship leadership that both reflected the times, but also accurately represented the diverse people who made up the congregation. There were many bumps along the way, but the church stayed committed to their roots of being a diverse people committed to following the Spirit as one body. Worship began to be led by multiple worship teams, and the co-pastorate model morphed into a preaching team of leaders raised up from within the congregation.
At the dawn of the 21st Century, the church continued to grow, adding services to accommodate the swelling congregation. Eventually, instead of adding more services, the church decided to move in a different direction, moving to establish Madison campuses around the city, each led by a head pastor from the preaching team. What was Madison Square Church now became the Madison Church family, with each campus developing its own staff but sharing resources together as they remained committed to the mission of Madison from its inception: to follow Christ as diverse congregations. With each campus, additional worship teams were developed, each representing the various musical homes and traditions of their congregants. These teams reflect the various people, languages, arts and musical stylings of a great many people who make up the ever-evolving makeup of the neighborhoods in which each Madison Church campus resides.
The Antioch Worship Leadership Trainings were developed by Madison Church to meet the needs of these new worship leaders to learn how to lead worship with humility, wisdom and skill in these diverse congregations. Initially meeting monthly, these times of training and fellowship grounded these emerging leaders in the mission, vision and values of Madison, equipping them to be effective worship leaders in their congregations. But as the church continued to grow, some of the leaders found it difficult to attend the Antioch meetings. To meet this need, the Antioch Worship Leadership Podcasts were developed to provide those who could not attend the gatherings to still listen-in on some of the conversations and training resources Antioch offered. But soon, it became apparent that these conversations and resources had broader applications outside of the Madison Church family as more and more churches are looking for resources to effectively lead their congregations which are becoming increasingly culturally diverse. As the church takes on a browner complexion all over the United States (as it is in most of the world), these conversations are being had in more and more congregations who wish to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.
The mission of the Antioch Worship Leadership Podcast is similar to that of Madison Church. These audio recordings are examples of the kinds of conversations worship leaders need to have in diverse churches as we learn from one another while we grow. These podcasts are not intended to present as set of formulaic answers. Rather they are examples of how we at Madison Church have learned to have conversations about leading diverse congregations through worship. We don’t hold the Madison Church family up as a perfect model of how to lead a multi-ethnic church. Rather, we want to use the example of Madison Church as an illustration of the principles and ideas which all diverse churches encounter in the area of worship leadership. So perhaps if you don’t attend a Madison Church, you can benefit from us by hearing our stories and conversations, learning from our mistakes, and perhaps seeing the places where we are also learning how to lead worship diversely together well. We are all imperfect people who know we need Jesus to save us from ourselves. If you also need to be saved from your own habits, instincts, preferences, and self-reliance as a worship leader, these conversations are for you. Won’t you join us?