The technical term for this is a homogenous church – a local assembly of predominately one race. Is this wrong in itself? Of course not. Could there be something wrong if this is the case? Definitely. So what problems could there be if a church is all one race whether that be white, black, Hispanic, Korean, or whatever? The potential problem is 3 fold: you might not reflect your community, you might have challenges ministering to people of another culture and integrating them into your church, and you might be missing various talents, abilities, and gifts that perhaps are more prevalent in another’s culture. The Book of Acts is filled with examples of Jews reaching out to Greeks and Romans and Asians and the like. There weren’t different churches to go to so there was only one place to go – your house. They didn’t think of dividing themselves up in such a way, although they did face many challenges from doing so. (Google “Judaizers”) We are in a new place in church history. We live in an extremely diverse society in America and yet many of our individual churches don’t reflect that diversity. There are tons of reasons why this has happened. Honestly, people like to hang-out with others like themselves. Yet Christ’s mission is so much bigger and more important than this preference. So how ever you think we got to this place of homogeneous churches, here’s my best ideas on how to get out of it. I beg those who are farther along in the process than me to share in the comments section additional steps they took. I’m going to try to be as concrete as I can with this list. So here goes:
1) Census Data
It’s easy enough to grab census data on the zip code your church building resides in. Usually Wikipedia will hook you up or go to www.factfinder.census.org to get the raw data. Look at race, age, financials, and the like. Does your local church reflect the neighborhood? Demographics change all the time. The church might have perfectly lined-up with the neighborhood 40 years ago, but the congregation didn’t change as the other occupants did. If they do however, awesome! Jump to step 10 and continue.
2) Discuss the Problem
Share the results with your church. Talk about the reasons why it is valuable to reflect one’s community. Share the next steps on how the whole church will need to participate in this valuable endeavor. Then literally pray for God to begin working on this new community cohesion.
3) Guest Speakers
Giving up the pulpit is tough for a pastor. Giving it up to someone who might ruffle some feathers can be even harder. Pastors really just want someone who’s not quite as good as them. (Fortunately, I personally am WAY more humble than that.) So go for the gold and bring in a preacher of a different race. As they preach the Word of God accurately and powerfully, have them share some of the challenges that their race has in living-out those scriptures. Interview (well, go ahead and interrogate) your guest afterword and have them help identify some of the specific challenges that they believe your local church in particular might face in reaching-out to a person of another culture.
When someone from another race just happens to walk through the front door, what are your means of follow-up? Find the right person, the right time, and the right means to keep in contact with this visitor in particular. Early on in this process, it might even be worth sharing the goals and purposes of the church to better reflect the community. Putting all your cards on the table and asking for partners in this lofty goal is certainly more logical than just letting people not return because they aren’t “comfortable” or it wasn’t the right “fit.”
5) Get Involved
Most often, homogenous churches are that way because the church is reflective of the friendship of the church members. Strategically serving in a ministry or ministering in a certain location with a high concentration of the missing demographic is an important way to jumpstart progress. Friendships can be built, the seriousness of the mission can be perceived, and hopefully new church members can be forged.
6) Hire Different
It’s human nature to want someone that looks like you to be in areas of leadership. We should never hire based on race, but if the staff and leadership all look exactly the same, it would be wise to begin looking for a quality minister that might help broaden the diversity in the church. Visitors will now see someone they feel they might better connect with.
7) Speak Direct
Almost every church I’ve interacted with does something unique and special for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (well at least Mother’s Day) as well as several services that have a patriotic flare to them. Having a service that directly speaks to the issues that the minority in your church faces, could be both educational to the community at large and comforting to the ones who know they are different from the rest of the body. There is never a moment to veer away from God’s Word, especially in a worship service, but throughout church history there have been many Sundays in which a particular theme in Scripture was explored.
8) Integrate (hey, that rhymes)
It is so vital that each individual person truly believes that “your” church is “their” church too. Helping to make sure children, youth, small groups, outreach ministries, and the rest are fully integrated with every race within the church. It’s easy to have “tokenism” or even a whole group whose sole purpose is to be “ministered to.” This is not what the church is about. Everyone is to be discipled and edified to where they become the ministers themselves.
9) Develop Specific Ministries
Yet, at the same time, have some ministries specifically focused on meeting the needs of the minority community. A wealthy church, for instance, might not naturally have a food bank because none of their members ever struggled with hunger. However, after reaching out to a lower-income community, new needs might arise. Addressing those needs is vital to the overall health of the church.
10) Plant New Churches
The final step is church planting. Churches tend to plant churches in similar communities to their own. What if more churches started specifically planting churches in communities different from their own? What if churches got planted right in the heart of communities of color? What if churches were planted right in the center of lower-income communities with the expressed belief that the planting church would need to continually fund the sister church indefinitely? What if churches who were already very diverse planted in areas that had churches struggling with being too homogenous? What if instead of people saying you are welcome to come to our church, they actually moved into their community to serve Christ along side them? What if we became missionaries in our own zip code?
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