Diversity: You Can’t Make it Happen. You Can Only Stop it From Happening
Diversity and church growth are similar in that we need to recognize what is and isn’t within our control. One thing that Pentecost made clear is that multi-ethnicity is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of God dramatically descended in Acts 2 the resulting diversity was and can only be attributed to a move of God.
This must be our starting point. The longstanding walls of race, class and culture that keep Christians from worshipping and serving together need the direct intervention of Jesus in the hearts of his people. Colorado Community Church makes no sense without first recognizing that God decided to do something.
If you ask me, “How do you make a church grow?” My response would be, “I don’t know.” When it comes to church growth I don’t think you can make it happen, you can only stop it from happening. The same is true with diversity. Only God can make it happen but we can do a lot to prevent it; therefore, we need to intentionally address the barriers that get in the way.
Mark DeYmaz in his book Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, says that “most local church leaders…are glad for diverse individuals to get involved ‘as long as they like our music, our preaching style, and our environment. But they should not expect us to change for them.’ Therefore, the message being sent, whether directly or indirectly, is that ‘you might feel more comfortable in another church down the street.'”
In order to send a different message we knew that we had to be intentional about music, language, staffing and false barriers.
Some multi-cultural churches take a “music appreciation” approach to their worship services with each song is done in it’s pure form—Gospel by the gospel choir; praise by the praise team and hymns with the organist. This can work but it requires the pastor to remind the various groups in the congregation that some of the songs are for them and others are not. If they don’t like the songs that are not from their tradition they can at least learn to appreciate them because it is for the benefit of their brother or sister in Christ who is from different culture.
We chose to take a different route by looking for what could be called “crossover genres.” Paying attention to the local concert venues and taking note as to which bands draw a diverse audience will reveal these. When you do this you’ll notice that when a country star or classic rock band comes to town that the crowd is not as diverse as with Prince, Earth, Wind and Fire or the Commodores. The crossover genres in our city are R & B, Jazz and mainstream hip-hop. Thus, in order to remove the music barrier we decided to filter gospel, praise and hymns through these forms so every song has a higher degree of accessibility to maximum number of people.
Some barriers are insurmountable on a practical level. Geographical distance and language may be two such barriers. Geography isn’t a barrier that we face as a church but language is. We are an English-speaking congregation and have yet to crack the bi-lingual, multi-lingual code.
However, we are intentional about watching our language. For example, we never use phrases like, “color blind.” The person who says it usually means well but the person to whom it is directed is left with the question, “Why would you not want to see me for who God made me to be?” As a leader I point these sorts of things out often.
Trillia Newbell calls us to a higher use of language in our cross-cultural interactions with this video about her recent book, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.
We are intentional when it comes to recruiting and maintaining a multicultural staff. When people attend worship they should see themselves reflected on the platform and in their pastoral staff.
I agree wholeheartedly with DeYmaz when he says, “we should not expect to integrate our leadership teams through random prayer or wishful thinking. Diverse individuals of godly character, theological agreement, and shared vision do not just arrive on waves of whim. Rather, they must be intentionally sought.”
We also rejected false barriers. We refuse to believe that you can only reach people like yourself. Philip was a Jewish man with a Greek name. God called him to share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunich. Anyone can reach anyone!
Popular in church growth literature is the idea that multi-cultural churches wont grow. We chose to reject that notion. Even if it was true, we are compelled by a higher calling of faithfulness to the gospel.
(Read Part 1 here)
Join the Conversation: What do you think of the statement, “When it comes to diversity in a church you can’t make it happen, you can only stop it from happening?” What other false barriers do you think need to be rejected?