Multi-cultural Churches

Multi-cultural Churches May 1, 2013

Alex Murashko:

Is your church multicultural? (Is it less than 80% monocultural?)

While most churches say they already have or are working on having a multicultural congregation, the majority fall short when it comes to reflecting a diverse community of believers coming together during church services on Sundays, said an expert on multi-ethnic church planting and staffing.

“If you were to judge church brochures across America you would say that there is not a multicultural problem in the American church,” Tony Kim, former pastor at Newsong Church in Irvine, Calif., told The Christian Post recently. Kim is the Communication Lead Associate for Slingshot Group. The Orange County-based organization specializes in church staffing and coaching pastors and leaders. “So everyone is open to it, but very few are willing to make a decision to step into that.”

Kim said the Internet has created a deeper transparency between the church and the community. Someone new to a community, looking for a church to attend, can simply go to a church’s website, take a look at the staff page, and make assumptions as to whether the church is representative or accepting of their ethnicity.

“I tell churches that it’s great if you want to hire a worship leader of a different ethnic background, but if you want to bring long-lasting systemic change then you have to have those ethnic minority leaders in the decision-making process, somewhere near the core,” Kim explained. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

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  • Gerard

    I usually find that leaders who express the desire of their churches to be multi-cultural don’t even know what that means. Furthermore, their idea of multi-cultural rarely reflects the community they live in. For instance, one church I worked in for a while continued to express this desire, and typically it boiled down to having more African-Americans, even though the neighborhood was predominantly Latino-American.

  • phil_style

    The question needs to be asked, do different cultural and ethnic groups want to experience church community in different ways, ways that might be specific and important to their cultural identity?

    A cursory look around any old European city will reveal this fact. Historically many churches were built and run by specific ethnic groups, typically migrants within cities. You’ll get Slovenian Orthodox churches in Vienna, Polish Catholic Churches in Paris and Greek Churches in Munich. When the church becomes an important arm of the community and where the community is divided along ethnic or cultural grounds (as it almost always tends to be for first generation migrants) then you will get ethnically or culturally separated churches within the local geographic area. Some would try to overcome this by encouraging those who do not look like them to join in their church, however, that is a rather weak form of multi-culturalism. In that sense, “multi-culturalism” is , unfortunately, used as little more than a code for assimilation – where all outside groups are tacitly (or explicitly) expected to participate in the norms of the host, or majority groups e.g. means speaking the dominant language.

    Can a truly multi-cultural church really cope with multi-lingual services, and diverse cultural worship practices etc…? Often, and disappointingly, it takes a wider community that is prepared to operate that way, before the local churches can follow suit. Tony Kim’s last sentence that Scot has quoted is worth taking note of.

  • This is a difficult challenge. The neighborhood I live in is crazy and beautifully diverse: Burmese, Asian, African American, Latino, Middle Eastern. The longer and deeper I become friends with diverse people in my neighborhood I’ve been surprised that the departure point when it comes to religious expression is often music style. That might sound overly simplistic but I’ve been told over and over in so many ways “I go because the music is good”. I’m not referring to white people. This is coming from people on my street. Chasing down a buffet of music styles sounds like a horse race to me.

    Recently a “popular pastor” of a multicultural church told me that the best way to start becoming multicultural is to have multicultural worship. Which sounds like “give everybody a little bit of what the want and they will come”. This sounds exhausting and reinforces our missional blockage. My hypothesis is that diversity can only be given space to be addressed when our overly attractional, consumer-friendly, Preaching/worship service centric form of doing church is disassembled.

  • I think most neighborhoods are not multicultural.

  • RJS

    Dan Jr.

    Your observation meshes with the post I put up yesterday. I do think there is something to the idea of giving everybody a little bit of what they want because this allows ownership and participation. But maybe a better way to put it … let everybody provide a little bit of what they like. I think we would do well to get away from the (semi)-professionally prepared spectator show aspect of worship.

  • RJS,
    I dig your insights since it does “allows ownership and participation”. But where this collides in my world is in cultivating Missional Communities that do not often have a larger worship service. Not having a large musical element (which is very difficult in homes) becomes a trip up factor for those looking for their musical style represented.

  • Home On The Range

    I don’t know….what about the message of the gospel? If the message is true and vibrant, the people will come. “Formulas” will work for awhile, then everything will fall apart. But the saving message of Jesus will always draw a crowd. I attend a very large church on the outskirts of Boston; and one of the things I love about it is the “united nations” congregation! Man, this is what heaven will look like……people from all walks of life, ages, nations and tongues! The music is praise and traditional, with some “gospel” thrown in for good measure, choir, band and ensemble. We love it! The pastoral staff has included pastors from India, China, South Africa, Nigera and……..New York! The message is always the same – the finished work of Jesus and what it means to us. Really, why is a “formula” needed when the original message is multicultural, multiracial, multiworld? If that is preached consistently, Biblically, and with love, what more do you need? Seriously?

  • RJS

    Dan Jr.

    So you would want both diversity and small missional community at the same time?

  • I am glad we are talking about this here. I think that we need to distinguish between multiethnic and multicultural in these sort of discussions. Multiethnic congregations are those where multiple ethnicities are present. The church I attend would be an example of this as we have about 40 some different ethnicities represented in our church. Most multiethnic congregations still operate within one dominant cultural group’s values and methods on issues such as time, language, style, songs, and more. Multicultural congregations are those which have moved beyond the dominant cultural approach into a more diversified approach to life as a church. Becoming a multicultural church requires much more work and challenge than simply having multiple ethnicities present (which is also hard work in itself).

  • R. M.

    Perhaps we need to stop trying to get one church to be all things to all people and view our individual church communities as having a vital part to play in a larger, yet local church ecosystem. Sunday prepares us to work along side the larger Christian body thoughout the rest of the week. I say that because I think we’d lose a lot of the distinctive tribes and nations by trying to find a cultural norm to please everyone on Sunday.

    Also, The one church we were a part of that really tried to be multi-cultural was the least diverse group of people I’d ever encountered. My husband and I joked that they were a country club for people who would never join a country club within walking distance of three Country clubs. They were mostly white, university educated, 20-40 yr olds working in the public sector and at universities.

    The most multi ethnic churches we’ve been a part of are a little more blue collar and usually don’t stress multiculturalism.

  • I wish that I could invite all of you to visit on our “International Day” which is coming up soon. We have more than 50 nationalities there and will celebrate our diversity by wearing national costumes, hearing national music, and reading the Bible in national languages. Oh and I think there will be international food afterwards. We are based in a multicultural part of London but still have to work and pray hard to make sure we reflect that diversity. For us it is a gospel effectiveness issue, but if you live in a monocultural area don’t beat yourself up about it!