Diversity In the Church
It’s believed that the most segregated time of the week occurs on Sunday mornings. White churches, Asian, Black churches, and Spanish churches fill our cities. It’s clear that many have come to purposefully seek churches that most resemble their genetic makeup. As a Professor of Social Psychology, I am aware that there is an element of this that’s human nature. We tend to naturally flock towards those who share traditions and backgrounds similar to us. According to Psychology Today, this notion of desiring to be around others who are similar is our personal way to be validated. We seek interaction with those who may be more alike as a way to ensure we aren’t rejected and to stay in the confines of safety. Yet, one can look at the recent Atlanta shootings targeting Asian Americans, the racial division during the George Floyd protests, and the ongoing disparities amongst people of color, to know that there has to be a change. And that change starts with the church!
Though we can be aware of the inclination to be with those who are genetically more like us, the Lord is calling us to rise above human nature. In fact, He calls us to be one (Ephesians 4:4-6). Yet recently, I read an article from by Pastor Dan Hyun, who challenged the reasons people gave for not seeking diversity in the church. In his words, diversity may “make people uncomfortable” and “doesn’t grow churches.” Fortunately, later in the article, he reminds us that the true gospel is not about us or our preferences, but requires dying to our own way of doing things.
Yet, for those who take the perspective of avoiding diversity, I question what God’s response would be to this self-centered theology. If a person entered a church of a race different from those who typically attend, should we not try to include them because we are “uncomfortable”? Truthfully, if we are unable to accept fellow Christians who don’t look like us on the outside, how will we be able to accept those who are unbelievers? Are not called to go into the community and tell the world about who He is?
He calls us to not be separated by race, age, or socioeconomic status. We are to come together as the body of Christ.
"So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family." Ephesians 4:3
As one who recently launched a church plant, I have seen the beauty of having a multicultural church. It’s not enough to just say we are a “diverse” or “multicultural” church in our mission statement, we must seek ways to be intentional about making sure everyone is welcome. Does this mean we reject or ignore others who share our culture? No! However, it does mean that just as heaven will be full of people from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 7:9), the church will also keep their arms open to embrace those who are different.
With this being said, the following are ways we make our churches more diverse:
.1.) Embrace Families of Different Backgrounds
The number one way to challenge diversity issues within the church starts with a smile. A recent poll stated that one of top reasons people didn’t go to church was because they didn’t feel welcome. In fact, it has been found that the first 15 minutes of a person’s experience will determine whether they will ever return again-this is before the preacher begins to preach.
When churches aren’t intentional about having a culture of hospitality, new families leave feeling rejected and can easily attribute this lack of love with Christianity. We must remember that families of a different background than the majority in the crowd may already feel hesitant when attending. They aren’t sure if they will be welcomed or if prejudices may exist. By simply giving a smile and introducing ourselves we can help break the discomfort some may experience.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
2.) Preach diversity and racial reconciliation from the pulpit
A few years ago, racial disunity hit a climax throughout America. With technology being able to film moments of clear racial injustice, it became undeniable that there was more work to be done. In the times directly after a police shooting or riot, many turned to the church for solace. Yet, not every church took a bold stand on topics. Some stayed silent to not disrupt the peace or sprayed a quick cliché prayer of peace over the church.
In order for the church to be on one accord, pastors must be willing to address topics of race. We find that, even Jesus, took a stand on tough issues. He didn’t mince words but stood for truth and confronted wrong. Does this mean every pastor is called to be a civil rights activist? No! However, local churches should be a safe place to turn for answers when the world is in disarray. When churches refuse to address such topics, the affected population is left to feel uncared for and abandoned by the others. As Pastor Dan Darling says, church members tend to value and honor what their pastors value. Lack of empathy and conversation from leaders creates an “us versus them” culture unintentionally.
3.) Be intentional about inclusion
It can be easy to gather with those with similar lifestyles and background. However, Jesus calls us to do the opposite. He encourages a spirit of hospitality and togetherness. In one passage, Jesus tells His followers to not just invite brothers, sisters, and rich relatives to your home but others who may are typically unseen (Luke 14:12-24). One clue to know if you are inclusive with your friend group is to look at the “favorites” section of your phone. If all those people look exactly like you, this is a good opportunity to be a part of the solution. Though pastors can preach the importance of diversity from the stage, we have an individual responsibility to “be the church.” Without intentionally making the church feel like a family, there will continue to be clear racial divides in the church.
4.) Be mindful of Social Media Presence of Leadership
Social media can be an empowering tool or a vehicle for hatred. As Christians, we have an amazing opportunity to use our social networks as a platform to share the gospel, while connecting with friends. The issue arises, however, when social media is used in a way to share one’s fiery passion or discontent over situations. The reality is that many Christians have a variety of opinions concerning hot topic issues. Even within the same congregation, fights around race can take place and cause disarray that spills into Sunday morning. Suddenly, one who you enjoyed seeing every Sunday, is now seen as an enemy and one who is unempathetic. What is worst, unbelievers watch as members of the church go back and forth (even using Bible verses) to argue about their beliefs. We must ask ourselves, is this the representation we want others to see of the Church?
In most cases, it is best that church leaders not engage in such posts whether through pressing “like”, “share” or commenting on racially charged posts. In my personal experience, I have seen those who decided to never return to church after heated social media arguments over race. When pastors fail to set the standard for proper online etiquette, their entire church can be stamped as those who are insensitive. This doesn’t increase diversity but further reminds those who are the minority that they are not welcome and that their issues are unseen by the church. Instead, it is much better to seek face-to-face interaction with others to gain understanding and understand their position and sorrow.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it 1 Corinthians 12:26
5.) Show no partiality
In the book, When The Church Was Family, Joseph Hellerman discusses the need to reflect on how Jesus used the word “brothers” to describe a community of believers. In the New Testament culture, brotherhood was the top level of community and to be valued above all. When one is regarded as a brother, we can recognize that although there may be differences, we all need each other. One is not higher or more valuable than the other. Instead, we are all members of the body of Christ and bring something that only we can bring. The Spanish woman, Arab man, or African American family all add unique value to your ministry. Rather than looking at what they look like on the outside, see their addition as an opportunity to learn. See them as brothers not the “others.” Special treatment isn’t required like a charity case. However, those who may already feel out of place simply want to be a part of the family environment of your church. When we are intentional about diversity, an environment is created where church members can easily invite anyone from their community to be a part of our fellowships. What an amazing opportunity to create atmospheres that reflect the diversity yet oneness of heaven itself.
Instead of running from the discomfort of accepting a new person, embrace them in the manner that Jesus Himself would. *The above article was originally published on Ibelieve.com. *
For more on living a life where you are mindful of God and how He sees you and others, I invite you to purchase my latest book, The Victory Walk: A 21 Day Devotional by clicking here.