In the United States, there are currently fewer than five Native American focused PCA churches, and yet, out of the five million Natives in our country, 90% are not believers by their own admission. Woodlands Gathering is one of two such churches that are led by indigenous people, and this plant is uniquely practicing outreach to people from Native American heritage and culture.
Woodlands is located in Soddy Daisy, TN because this is the crossroads of three counties that have high numbers of documented Natives. With a Cherokee heritage himself, Pastor Greg Baney is especially equipped for this ministry. “I think I have an identification and understanding of a people group that prepares me to speak to them in a way that is incarnational and culturally appropriate.”
Even after 500 years of missionary efforts to Native people groups, there are so few Native believers for several reasons. Greg explains, “The first is the spiritual reason, the same reason anyone isn’t a believer. The Holy Spirit has to change hearts. The second is historical barriers. Many outreach efforts misrepresented the Christ of the New Testament to Native people. Finally, there is a cultural barrier. From the early 1800s to the 1950s, many missionary mindsets were ‘Kill the indian; save the man,’ Woodlands Gathering is actively addressing this mindset (and the other barriers) in order to accurately portray the Christ of Scripture.”
The leaders at Woodlands Gathering are aware of these historical and cultural barriers, but they are committed to incarnational ministry. The church wants to show Jesus to their community in a culturally sensitive way, reaching them where they are and living out the gospel.
“Jesus died for all tribes and people groups, and that includes 575 Native tribes in the United States alone,” says Greg. Woodlands Gathering hopes to see more people “brought to complete unity” in Christ, as John 17:23 says. We look forward to joining these fellow brothers and sisters in the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…crying with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelations 7:9-10)