INDIANAPOLIS — Jeffrey Johnson, pastor of Eastern Star Church, is one of the most recognizable pastors in the city. The church's main campus is in the east side Arlington Woods neighborhood, but the church also has campuses on Cooper Road and in Fishers.
Johnson started his ministry with a few hundred people in a long-established location in 1988. Since then, the church has flourished, with more than 15,000 members and thousands more around the world streaming the church services every week.
The church motto is "Jesus Exalted and the Word Explained." Pastor Johnson said his church, along with many other Black churches, have been doing that for more than 100 years in Indianapolis.
"You think about the Black church and what it has meant to our community, and that's where we come, of course, to worship God. We also connect with Jesus, our savior, but at a time when we were mistreated in the community, we would come to get respect and honor," Johnson said. "When we were called 'boy' and 'girl' — grown people — but at church we were called 'deacon,' 'trustee,' 'pastor' and 'mother.'"
The respect spreads to those who live in the community. Church members walk out their faith by spreading the Gospel of Christ and discipling Christians, but they also give physical needs major attention.
Arlington Woods, for instance, is in a marginalized area of Indianapolis. During COVID, the church was able to tackle the many needs quickly. For church services, they already had radio, television and streaming capability. For those without food, they already had a care center and access to medical help.
For the other issues that continue to this day, Eastern Star and Johnson instituted the ROCK Initiative, a wide-ranging plan to live out the message of hope in Christ.
"We believe there needs to be a social expression to our faith. You saw the new houses over here and the renovated homes — we did those. We teach people how to manage money from a biblical perspective," Johnson said.
For many Black churches, the church is a multi-layered place, primarily focused on preaching the gospel but helping in day-to-day issues and challenges, like money.
"Sometimes, we end up in poverty, (but) not because we don't know what to do with the money we make."
The attention to help with financial needs doesn't stop there. Johnson played a role in bringing a credit union into Arlington Woods after other financial institutions left the neighborhood.
Johnson felt the call to ministry when he was only 17. To this day, he still feels hope in Christ.
"I look at the Black church. They poured into me. I learned to be a man, how to lead, how to give back to the community," Johnson said. "This can be hopefully, some aspect of hope for somebody. It doesn't always have to be negative and bad...That's the message of the Black church."