Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Multiracial Church?

I had a fascinating conversation with some of my leadership students on the way to East Texas Baptist University yesterday morning. I've had the discussion before, but was challenged again about it because of a Christianity Today cover article last month. The question in view was simply: should the local church today make its goal to be a multiethnic community? Here are a few of my thoughts on the issue. Feel free to disagree:

First, the church has continued to be the most segregated hour of the week forty years after the civil rights movement. Whether or not you think this should change, the reality must at least be addressed. We continue to do church with people that are like us to the exclusion of those who are different. This generally is driven by a church-growth culture. The fastest way to grow a church numerically is to aim the efforts of the church's ministry a specific demographic. If we design our ministry efforts toward a specific age group, culture, and ethnic group, then we are more likely to rapidly grow our church. However, what does this teach people about what the church is and why it exists? Fundamentally, I believe it teaches people that the church exists to meet their needs and to cater to their preferences. And what we end up with is a singular ethnic group church with people who are the same age and make approximately the same income. Does this reflect the true body of Christ? No, and I think it should change.

Second, the suburban white churches in America are disproportionately wealthy when compared to urban minority churches. Again, whether or not you think this should change, we have to address the truth of the claim. The church in America contains the same inequity that the population contains. Why should this continue? It is driven by a church culture that says that 95% of what we spend of our budgets simply go to minister to our own people. Again, the lack of ethnic diversity is a part of the source of this problem.

Third, so many local churches do not reflect the communities in which they exist. As urban areas have become minority centers, the predominantly white churches have moved away from the city centers in order to maintain their ethnocentric identities. Instead of reaching out to their local minority communities, the white churches have relocated to continue to maintain their one-race identity.

In all of these things, I believe the church of Jesus in America is an embarrassment in the way that we continue to segregate. The schools and the business world have long embraced diversity as essential to life, but the church has not. Why should the church of Jesus be last to embrace diversity in our worshipping communities? What does the world think when it sees our inability to integrate the Sunday morning worship service?

I fundamentally think the problem is sourced in our lack of willingness to do things in worship that are not our first preference. In order to reach people that are not like us, is the church willing to do music and embrace traditions that are different from their own? Only in this way will the local church begin to be a community based on unity in diversity and not just unity based on unanimity. I believe we miss something when we don't have people in the church that are different from us (whether that is age, profession, income level, or race). But the question remains - do enough people think this a problem that should even be addressed? I pray so.

1 comment:

Danny Burch said...

I think the problem with the local church today is that people want to be comfortable. So they will migrate to wherever people will make them feel better. Most church members don't go to church to be challenged, equiped, and to worship anymore but rather they go to feel like they are loved and a place where they belong. I think the local church falls here because they support that idea.