“I don’t think the city of Little Rock has EVER seen anything like this. At least, I haven’t,” said Steven Arnold, Senior Pastor of Grace Temple Church. The “thing” that he has never seen is the newly formed church called Grace United Church, which is the merger of Grace Temple Church, a predominately African American church plant, and Grace Church (formerly Grace Community Church that was originally a church plant from Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock). These two churches went public as Grace United on Sunday September 25th at 10am.
Joshua Hurlburt, Lead Pastor of Grace Church, had a secret prayer that he kept to himself for almost a decade. He desired to see an African American and white congregation worship as one. While he admitted that he felt it was a long shot of happening in Little Rock, especially now, Hurlburt said he saw God move, “I’m finally seeing black and white worship and serve together.”
The pastors of the two “Graces” met through a mutual friend that was a pastor in the Little Rock area. Grace Temple at the time was reeling from the effects of COVID in the fall of 2020. They felt that in order to survive as a church, they needed to eliminate debt and reset. This meant redefining their vision and relocating to a different location. At the time they were located on Eastport Drive near the Clinton National Airport. This mutual friend of the two pastors contacted Steven Arnold and said that his neighbor, Joshua Hurlburt, was open to having another church lease space at Grace Church in West Little Rock.
At the first meeting between Arnold and Hurlburt to discuss space possibilities, Neal Scoggins, Evangelism Strategist on the Church Health Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) attended. Scoggins said, “I’ve seen shared building situations turn bad and didn’t want this one to go that way. Wow! Was I surprised.”
At the conclusion of that first meeting, Hurlburt made this statement to Arnold, “I have been praying about a black and white church doing ministry together.” While it was not on Arnold’s radar at the time, it was in his heart. These two men immediately began praying together to ask God what He wanted to do. While they were praying several things happened that can only be described as a God movement.
First, the building debt that Grace Temple previously carried, was wiped away. The previous owner made a “gentlemen’s agreement” and told Grace Temple that they “owed nothing and they were free to walk away.” Next, debt from a remodeling project after water damage at Grace Church was paid off. Neither church had any debt to speak of.
To add to the complexity and splendor of this move, Scoggins, the evangelism strategist that was there to support the leasing conversation between Arnold and Hurlburt, was also an ABSC church planter and lead pastor of City of Refuge Community Church in Southwest Little Rock. As God would have it, the vision pricked the heart of Scoggins. After a reluctant start he surrendered to pray with Arnold and Hurlburt and decided to walk away from the church he planted more than eight years prior and join what God is doing.
Steven Arnold, Joshua Hurlburt, and Neal Scoggins now stand together as the three pastors of Grace United.
Making this move even more historic, these churches had their first worship service together on September 25, 2022…exactly 65 years to the day that nine teenagers attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School. Scoggins said, “I would love to see the Little Rock Nine see what is happening to remind them that their efforts are still making a difference.”
In order for this to work, Arnold believes that they needed to put God out front and leave their egos behind. “Look, this is a marriage, not a merger,” he said.
Since their launch, in less than four-weeks Grace United has seen an average of 400 people in two worship services each week, baptized four people, welcomed two missionary families from Germany and Thailand, launched a mission trip to Accra, Ghana, and welcomed an unknown number of new members.
Grace United, located at 12900 Cantrell Road in Little Rock, has two worship services most Sundays at 9:00 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. However, in order to “keep the family together” they maintain a monthly joint service every fourth Sunday at 10:00 a.m. They’ve said it and others are buying into it, “If you want to know what Heaven looks like, it looks like Grace United.”