In light of the coming Aug 15 launch of the Summit en espanol campus, I wanted to continue the discussion of racial diversity. These thoughts first appeared back in 2007, but I think they are good to think through again…
So here's the question: How important is racial diversity in the church?
On one hand, it's easier to quickly grow your church if you only "market" it to one particular group. You can aim at one "slice" of culture and do things that appeal to that culture… you can
play the music they like, speak in their colloquialisms, dress in their
ways, and program ministries for them. Black churches seem to reach
black people best; rockin' uber-cool churches reach the 20-somethings
the best; organized, "intelligent" laid-back church services reach
professional America the best, etc.
On the other hand, Acts 2 gives you a picture of a church where
people from different races, of different ages, and different
backgrounds come together under one commonality, Jesus Christ. It was
supposed to be a miracle and a sign of Christ's Lordship over
humanity… an incredible testimony to the watching world of the
transcendent beauty of Jesus.
It is clear that the early church was this way. Racial harmony
within the churches was one of the things that astounded the Roman
world and caused the rapid acceptance of the church (see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity). Recently, Bill Hybels
said that if he had Willow Creek to do over-again, he would have built
his church on diversity. I even asked him, point blank, if he would do
it even if it meant reaching half as many people. Without hesitating he
said, "Absolutely. The larger, corporate witness of the church is more
important than a temporary numbers surge for one congregation."
In order to accomplish that type of unity among diversity, you have
to program for it. There have to be elements in the services that
appeal to other cultures and ages. "Minorities" have to see themselves in our
leadership. Otherwise, they probably won't come… after all, why should we
insist they conform to our culture? For example, think of us poor white
people… most of us were silly enough to think that when we finally
got over being racist and announced that black people were welcome in
our churches, they'd all come flooding back in thanking their lucky
stars for the chance to be in our presence. But why would a black
person want to come to a church that doesn't resemble his culture or
possess any of his "kind" in leadership? But if you start to mix
"black" elements into your service, some of your white crowd gets
uncomfortable and you quit reaching them. Or–change the variable… if
you quit playing your music so loud in an attempt to reach older
people, then you won't reach as many young people.
So, herein lies the dilemma… it seems that the New Testament gives
us an ideal of a church that is diverse in every way. But diversity
seems to hinder growth. And shouldn't we want to reach as many people
as possible as fast as possible? And, by insisting on
diversity in our outreach approaches, aren't we insisting that people
act "sanctified" before they're even saved?
So what is the answer?
Here's where I am… I reserve the right to change any of the below on a whim, and with no warning…
I am thinking it is like a "matrix."
I think that the local church ought to have some ministries that are
targeted at a homogenous group–certain outreaches, certain small
groups, certain special services… where people of one cultural-flavor
try to reach people of that exact same cultural- flavor. The Gospel
penetrates a culture best when it is brought by people of that same
But laid on top of that are certain things that the local church
does that celebrates and promotes its diversity. Things like the
weekend services, where various cultures are displayed–not "young
whitey" reaching only other "young whiteys." Cultural diversity is the
end-game for the local church.
I have found that most everyone agrees with this in theory, but far fewer are wiling to really be in a church that pursues this. I have young white college students who tell me they really want the church to be racially diverse, but then they balk and complain about any changes we make to the service that may appeal to a black audience.
It is also interesting to me that a lot of the newer, younger "emerging" churches, who are reacting against the culturalism of the churches of their parents, are basically recreating a homogenous culture of their own.
David Wells notes this in his rather incisive Courage to Be Protestant.After pointing out that many young church planters are tired of the "impersonal" nature of megachurches and the mechanics of religion and long for more authentic community, he says,
However, while the emergents are
intent on making connections, they do not want to make those connections across
generations. They are niche-driven. The niche is Gen X.
Emergent churches are typically made up from the same social slice. They
are as look-alike as the marketing churches are for those of another
OK… so, would love your thoughts on this. Keep praying for our church. We really want to be a clear picture of Jesus to our community.