Cultural diversity is one of Boston’s most distinguishing characteristics. In fact, the Hub is ranked as the 7th most culturally diverse of America’s largest cities.[i] Thousands of people from all over the world make Boston their home. First generation immigrants make up 27% of the city’s population.[ii] In such an ethnically and culturally diverse context, leading churches to be intentionally multiethnic makes a lot of sense.
Multiethnic churches make sense theologically. Jesus taught us to pray, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mat. 6:10) And Scripture depicts heaven as a place of multiethnic worship: “persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. . .” (Rev.7:9) Churches, therefore, should also to be a place where people from different backgrounds and cultures come together to worship.
Multiethnic churches make sense sociologically. Different labels are being used for the post-millennial generation, i.e., those born after 1996.[iii] Sociologists predict this emerging generation will be the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history. In fact one label suggested for post-millennials is the “Rainbow Generation.”[iv] Growing up in Greater Boston, young people live in neighborhoods, attend school, and become friends with children from diverse places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Columbia, Brazil, India, Nepal, and China, Korea, and Vietnam. Later, they attend colleges and universities that value diversity. This experience makes young adults comfortable in multiethnic/multicultural social contexts. In fact, ethnically homogenous churches will feel unusual and even off-putting to the post-millennial generation.
Multiethnic churches make sense pragmatically. Thom Rainer wrote, “My research for Autopsy of a Deceased Church indicates one of the factors that lead to the decline of a healthy church is its refusal to look like the community.”[v] This means that in urban centers like Boston, where multicultural communities are the norm, culturally homogenous churches may not thrive.
For 10 years I served as the pastor of a church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. It was an historic church, located in an affluent neighborhood where military families and federal employees lived. And it was almost completely Caucasian. The neighborhood, however, gradually changed. Different ethnic groups moved in and church attendance began to decline. The church might have died, but it didn’t. In fact, today if thrives! Under the prudent leadership of the current pastor, the church transitioned to multiethnic/multicultural ministry. The church staff now includes pastors for Anglo, Arabic, Korean, and Hispanic fellowships. The leadership includes Asian and African Americans. They have mission partnerships in several nations and even have a partnership with one of our church plants in Greater Boston! Clearly, becoming intentionally multiethnic/multicultural was the key that transformed a declining church into a thriving church. And the same thing can happen in Boston!
Sam Taylor serves as the Greater Boston regional coordinator at the Baptist Convention of New England.
[i] Richie Bernardo, 2018’s Most & Least Ethnically Diverse Cities in the U.S., WalletHub, February 13, 2018
[iii] Michael Dimock, Defining Generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin, March 1, 2018
[iv] Andrea Caumont, What would you name today’s youngest generation of Americans?, March 12, 2014