Building a Healthy Multicultural Church

The Bible is clear and repetitive in articulating God’s heart for all peoples. The book of Revelation tells us that God calls forth people from every tribe, nation, and tongue to worship Him, making heaven the picture of multicultural beauty. As the visible Church on earth, our focus must always be to try and worship in a manner that most reflects the Promised Land which we will one day call home. Even if a local church finds itself to be in a mono-ethnic location, the call to see multicultural worship is still valid and can still be accomplished by supporting such works in different locations and by sending missionaries to proclaim the Gospel among different people groups.

The American church’s failure to build diverse worshiping communities reveals a view of God and His Kingdom that is lacking.

In the United States, multicultural church work is found most often, but not exclusively, in urban centers, as cities have always been a drawing point for a large variety of people. With a flood of new immigrants and the return of a generation of people that have refused to believe that cities are the den of the devil, urban centers have swelled with a mixture of people from differing cultures. With a renewed excitement for the city among evangelicals and with a fresh demand for places of worship among first-generation immigrant populations, churches have been planted regularly in every major city across the United States.

However, a simple eye-test scan will demonstrate that the majority of new churches in American cities, remain mono-ethnic in their makeup despite their multicultural context. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “the most segregated hour in Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” is still just as true in our diverse cities. This is an indictment on churches of every culture, not only those with white or black congregations. What is sure is this: there must be more multicultural churches in the United States. The American church’s failure to build diverse worshiping communities reveals a view of God and His Kingdom that is lacking.

With all of this being said, the following are three tips for building a healthy multi-cultural church:

Diversify Your Leadership

In the book of Acts, the church at Antioch had a plurality of elders that included Africans, Greeks, traditional Jews and non-practicing Jews. This church became the first church-planting church, was generous with their brothers and sisters in need during a famine and radically grew to glorify God. Church leadership must reflect both its current demographics as a body of believers, as well as the body of believers it aspires to become.

No church will find success in becoming multicultural if it does not first diversity its leadership. This does not simply mean giving people titles, but it requires that a church intentionally include and promote the voices and gifts of those from different cultures. Most importantly, this means making people of all ethnicities who are called by God both visible and consistent in the pulpit and on the stage.

Diversify Your Liturgy

In his work on the subject of multicultural church growth, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah explains that a limited understanding of the outcome is what plagues the effort most. What he means is that too often churches look at and celebrate the mere presence of people in their congregations that represent different tribes, tongues and nations, and that becomes the goal. Rah compares this approach to trying to assemble a salad with tomatoes, onions, peppers, carrots and cranberries, and then neglecting to acknowledge what the salad dressing does to the diversity of taste that comes from the elements.

He argues that if one were to put together a mixture of elements and then pour white ranch dressing on the entire salad, the salad would inevitably taste like ranch dressing. When it comes to the form in which we worship, do the songs, practices and traditions of all peoples have a place? Or are we simply trying to collect different “ethnic people” (we are all ethnic people, by the way) and pour over them our way of church? For all peoples to feel at home and a part of the church, our liturgies should be informed by the Bible and breathed out by the beauty of all the God-given ethnicities we represent.

Diversify Your Lives

Vice President of the Send Network and urban church planter, Dhati Lewis has said, “We will never be able to diversify our churches if we don’t diversify our dinner tables.” The Church is not a building, a program or an organization. The Church is a family of believers that has covenanted together to follow Jesus. Therefore, unless the people of God individually embrace the call to value a multi-cultural life that includes inviting those who are different from us into our homes, there will never be true change within the family of faith. A love for the Kingdom begins with inclusion at our dinner tables and subsequently moves into every aspect of our lives.

The vision for multicultural churches is directly from heaven. It demands what one would expect of the Kingdom: humility, love and empowerment. May our churches in all contexts embrace a view of God and His people that moves us beyond what is comfortable into what is Christ-like. 

John M. Ames is the church planting pastor of Faith Community Church in Providence, RI.