Multi-Ethnic Congregations: A Present Need and a Future Reality

Our world is changing. It is not any secret that ethnic diversity is accelerating in American culture. What has been a traditionally white dominated culture is simply changing before our very eyes. The unfortunate thing is that many times churches are the most segregated gatherings of people in the country. Established churches have a tendency to be mono-ethnic, meaning that they reach one sort of ethnicity. White people go to church with white people. Black people go to church with black people. Asian people go to church with asian people. You get the point. This is incredibly unfortunate and fails to reflect the reality of heaven in which there will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping King Jesus (Read Revelation 5). If established churches are going to survive and thrive the next few decades, we must begin to get a vision for mult-ethnic congregations.

The Church is Not Dying

Many Christians seem to be the prophetic voice of doom. "The Church is dying in America!", well,  so they exclaim. However, this is proving not to be the case. Soong-Chan Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity argues that christianity in America isn't dying it is just changing. He writes incitefully:

“As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the twenty-first century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways. The American church needs to prepare for the next stage of her history—we are looking at a nonwhite majority, multiethnic Christianity in the immediate future. Unfortunately, despite these drastic demographic changes, American evangelicalism remains enamored with an ecclesiology and a value system that reflect a dated and increasingly irrelevant cultural captivity and are disconnected from both a global and local reality” (p. 12)

We are looking at a next stage of evangelicalism and it isn't just a white or black movement. It is multi-racial. Rah argues that evangelicalism is actually growing rapidly in America, not among whites, but among first and second generation immigrants from Asia, Africa, and South America. The reason we have been missing this trend is because all of our studies and research are done through an Anglo-Centric lense. Rah continues to write:

“The public face of America is no longer a white male. Meanwhile, the trend of a nonwhite majority America will hit the churches faster than it will hit the general population. This tend is due in large part to the sustaining of American Christianity by newly arrived immigrants who bring their Christian faith with them…. Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States” (p. 14).

Embracing Racial Diversity in our Churches

We must begin to reach out and engage people of other cultures and nationalities in our churches. This will by no means be an instintaneous transition. It will be slow and gradual, but we must be commited to reaching all people from every sort of ethnic background. The nations are no longer overseas. The world has gotten smaller and the nations are right outside our door.

In my own church, a southern baptist church, I've been so excited recently because our church is beginning to look more like the throne room of heaven. We still have a long way to go, but by God's grace we have seen multiple cultural backgrounds.

  • We have a thriving hispanic ministry meeting at our church and worshiping with us on Sunday morning.
  • We have many deaf members along with a deaf pastor on staff to reach this people group in Wilson.
  • Our church has become less "white" by having black Americans join and visit our church.
  • We have begun to see Asian people begin to join and visit, including this past Sunday where we had four japanese students visit our congregation.

These are very exciting things that are happening in our church, and for a SBC church which is known for being predominatly a white denominatio, this is amazing to see. It is my conviction that our churches should look like our local Walmart, which has become a population sample of the etnic melting pot of our cities. May we learn to see that the Gospel is for all people from all backgrounds and may we create strategies to reach all the people in our cities, even people with different skin color.