Dhati Lewis set out to start a church that could be a blueprint for urban discipleship, a church “in the city, for the city, that looks like the city.” But first, he needed a city.
A decade ago, he left the college town of Denton, Texas, for Atlanta, an urban hub four times larger. With him came 25 longtime ministry partners, including rappers Lecrae and Sho Baraka and pastor John Onwuchekwa. Together they planted Blueprint Church in the Old Fourth Ward, a story chronicled in a recent documentary, Becoming Blueprint, released in honor of the church’s 10th anniversary.
Lewis’s approach to ministry grew out of the tension he felt between the white evangelical culture that fueled his faith in Denton and the familiar black culture of his upbringing. In Atlanta, though he was a black pastor leading a diverse congregation in a majority-black city, the work of urban church planting was complicated.
For one, the area around his church continued to gentrify. “In this neighborhood, what scares me is the fact that you have Section 8 housing on one end and like a million-dollar home on the other end,” he said in the documentary.
Lewis, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Send Network, advises fellow church planters that the urban mission field is no longer the “inner city” stereotype but is instead defined by density and both racial and economic diversity.
Urban churches straddle dividing lines, and the context challenges pastors to ask whether they are after superficial unity or are willing to do the difficult work of addressing their own assumptions, shallow theology, and cultural hang-ups to engage in reconciliation.
“Diversity is such a buzzword these days, and …