Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement is still true; the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning. David Anderson writes from his Baltimore church:
Evidence of this country’s rich racial mix is all around us in our schools our stores, our neighborhoods, our recreational facilities – everywhere except our churches. Heaven may include every culture, tongue and tribe, but in the United States, Sunday morning remains one of the last bastions of ethnic separatism. It’s time to stop merely talking about multicultural worship and start living it.
What we are trying to do here is unique. Christian sociologist George Yancey found seven principles present when a church becomes multiracial (A church in which no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the attendees of at least one of the major worship services).
a worship style inclusive of multiple cultures
ethnically diverse leadership
an overarching goal to become multiracial
intentionally wants to become multiracial
leadership with appropriate personal skills
in a location that can draw multiple races
an adaptability to overcome various challenges that arise
What we are trying to do here is not only unique, but rare. Only 8 percent of American churches are multiracial. Of that small percentage only a small amount are multicultural, which is our goal. Multicultural is different than multiracial. Multicultural means diverse racial groups bringing different cultures into the same church.
The Antioch-Syria church in Acts 11 is a powerful model for us. It transformed irreligious people into ministers, had a spirit of unity in a diversity of cultures, was an ethnically and economically diverse church, and it did this it driven by small group relationships of accountability and mentoring. It was led by leaders of diverse cultures (Acts 11:20; 13:1), in a multi cultural city setting that brought Jews and Greeks together in Christ.
But, what we are trying to do is not only unique, it is also hard. 21st century church is hard enough without adding the challenges of multiculturalism to it.
Many multiethnic churches are really not multicultural. They are attended by people of diverse races, but not diverse cultures. One east coast church seems “multicultural” on the surface - Asians, Hispanics, African Americans and Anglos attend. But they are all young professionals part of the same culture, despite their color. Only a small number of the 8% US multiracial churches are multicultural, because multicultural is harder. It might mean Asian relationship approaches, African American worship approaches, Hispanic teaching approaches, Anglo conflict resolution approaches, or a blending of the above - plus the approaches of diverse economic and educational cultures of urban and university areas. That is stretching, that is us.
Unity in spirit while diversity in cultures is a biblical model - beginning with Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17), to his command to “go and make disciples of all peoples“ (Matt. 28:18). Not only is it the model,
Multiculturalism at its core is about community. Jesus taught love for each other would be the evidence of a real faith (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7-8). A multicultural church may be the most powerful evangelistic apologetic there is, as people see diverse cultures loving each other in one local church. Successful multicultural churches thrive because they live out Jesus’ command - “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35. It takes effort to understand each other, and that honestly, is a value absent in many churches.
While there are some biblical commands on leadership, much of leadership style varies from culture to culture. So multicultural churches have to discover what those are for them and agree to disagree.
But, multicultural churches do not just have tolerance for each other, they have camaraderie with each other. They are more than simply a large group worshipping together. Bird says, “a church becomes multicultural when its people spend time together outside of the worship service… Many such churches fail to move beyond the worship service … they are often not connected in life”. There is a new testament solution. It is no surprise that the world’s largest Asian, African, and Hispanic churches are all cellular driven with loving small groups where camaraderie develops.
Our hope is this church will become more like heaven, filled with men and women from every language and race and age and culture, being developed into ministers for Jesus, as an alliance with a spirit of unity.