Montgomery-area church wants ‘people to feel there’s beauty in diversity’

By Neisha Roberts
The Alabama Baptist

We shop in diverse places. We live in diverse neighborhoods. We work in diverse places.” It’s because of these circumstances that Terrence Jones, pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park, thinks it’s actually “harder for Christians to be segregated than it is to be together.”

But on Sunday morning “we somehow find ourselves … in a place where everybody looks like us and lives like us,” Jones said. “We kind of have to cut off all of our connections in our lives” to go to a church like that.

That’s why the Montgomery-area church Jones helped plant was founded on the fact that the blood of Christ on the cross tore down the dividing walls of hostility (see Eph. 2:11–12). From the beginning, Strong Tower leadership didn’t “see ‘multicultural’ as a thing to be manufactured but saw it as an outworking of what Jesus did on the cross,” Jones said. “It takes the pressure off of trying to engineer it. We wholeheartedly believe that Christ died for a group of people to be family — from every tribe, tongue and nation.”

Strong Tower, which was voted into the Montgomery Baptist Association in 2015, now sees about 150 gather every Sunday morning with about 45 percent African-American, 45 percent white and 10 percent Latino.

However, to be multicultural does take intentionality, Jones said. The team that planted Strong Tower was diverse at every level, which then funneled into the congregation, he said.

The music and culture of worship also has to be inclusive, Jones said.

“You cannot say you want to be multicultural and all your music is white or all your music is black. We intentionally sing hymns, gospel and contemporary because we want people to feel that there’s beauty in diversity. There’s something beautiful from every culture.”
But being multicultural is not the only “unique” thing about Strong Tower.

Washington Park, an area just south of the intersection of Interstates 65 and 85, is unique in that the neighborhood itself is considered 70 percent unreached, according to Jones. Its residents see a median income of $10,000 and 39 percent of residents over age 18 do not have a high school diploma.

“All those things can create an atmosphere of chaos and a different culture of how they deal with problems,” said Jones, noting that problems are often addressed through violence and drugs to “cope with the hopelessness.”

A man was murdered in Washington Park the very weekend that Jones and his wife were on their first vision trip there. They’d traveled from California to see if Washington Park was where God was leading.

“As we were praying about what to do we realized, ‘Why would we not come here to help? There is such a huge need,’” Jones said. Soon after that trip Jones and his wife and five children moved to Washington Park.

That was five years ago.

Growing from 25 to 150, Strong Tower has seen an explosion of growth in the last 18 months. And it’s not because the church building is aesthetically pleasing, Jones said. Strong Tower meets in a partially finished gym owned by the ministry Common Ground Montgomery.

“We don’t have a fancy building but we do preach the Bible.”

In November 2016, nine people were baptized at Strong Tower and since then there have been two or three new believers trusting in their Savior every month, Jones said.

Making outreach a priority

When it comes to missions, Strong Tower makes outreach a priority. Members of the church have taken three missions trips to Thailand, as well as serving in Africa, Haiti, Ecuador, New York and Clarkston, Georgia.

Locally the church has what they call “missional communities” — small group Bible studies held in a member’s home. Sunday School classes also started in early March.

On April 29 the church will host a free medical clinic with a North American Mission Board mobile clinic offering several health screenings onsite.

“We’re always trying to figure out ways to serve our community. I think people appreciate the church because we’re very active.”

State missionary Lamar Duke, who works closely with church planters for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), said, “It’s pretty exciting to watch what God is doing in a community that needed the Lord.”

Duke, who’s visited Strong Tower a few times, described the church service as a “heavenly experience.”

“In Revelations it talks about every tribe, tongue and nation so Strong Tower is kind of like heaven practice,” said Duke, noting that the way Jones leads the congregation is exemplary.

“He has a lot of people doing a lot of different things and lets others take ownership and responsibility for their acts of service.”

‘A great leader’

Jones, who went through SBOM’s church planting assessment process, three-day church planting boot camp and coaching for a year, is “a great leader,” Duke said. And all SBOM resources made available to church planters like Jones are made possible “by gifts from Alabama Baptists through the Cooperative Program.”

As Jones and church leadership look to the future, they see loads of possibilities and have a robust five-year plan in place for Strong Tower that includes:

• Building a multipurpose facility on 13 acres of land they purchased (with help from an SBOM grant).

• Hosting an extension site of a job-training program already in place at First Baptist Church, Montgomery.

• Beginning an after-school program to reach the 2,000 kids in a three-mile radius around the property.

• Planting a church.

Jones said, “We see the budding in all of these things. Someone in our church has already said they want to be a church planter.”

So what has produced all this growth and progress at Strong Tower, the first church Jones has ever served as pastor?

That’s simple, Jones said. “I think the Lord is just blessing it … and has His hand on it.”