For far too long, evangelical life has been divided on the issue of diversity. It’s been aptly said segregation still exists in America. It exists every Sunday morning in churches across our country. In a nation that is so ethnically diverse, why are we still behind in the church? What can we do to better welcome those of differing races, nationalities, and socioeconomic levels?
As a pastor, I know firsthand how hard it is to break through the cultural barriers that exist. But if we are to truly represent God’s Kingdom we must ask the Lord for His help then get it our best shot. Here are a few keys to how we can be more intentional about creating diversity in our churches.
1. Drop the Labels
For the longest time, our rhetoric in the evangelical church in America has been about “white” churches, and “black” churches, and “Hispanic” churches, and “Asian” churches. It’s time to drop the labels.
Having services in different languages to accommodate people is one thing, but referring to a church by the ethnicity of the majority of the people in the building just doesn’t make sense anymore. We don’t need to start ethnic works, we need to be ethnic works.
2. Don’t Be Sensitive
We know the stereotypes—those common idiosyncrasies attached to certain ethnicities. We live in a day where so many people get offended when you address stereotypes.
We should all be respectful of one another and say only those things which edify the body, but in that we should drop the sensitivity. If you’re easily offended, you probably think too highly of yourself, and if you don’t learn a little self-deprecation you won’t last in ministry.
3. Choose Relationships Over Comfort
This is tough, because we all grew up in a certain ethnic context. Growing up, you most likely spent the majority of your time around people of your same ethnicity. This is not always the case, but for most it is. This means it is much more comfortable to just hang out with people that look, think, and act like you.
We all must intentionally work out of our proverbial comfort zones and try to build relationships with those different than us. Invite someone to coffee or lunch. Invite their family over for a meal or for the kids to play. Be intentional. We’ve all got to work at it.
Relationships always supersede ministry philosophy or worship style. Just because you have a certain type of worship music or preaching style in your church doesn’t mean you’ll be more diverse. It takes relationships, and often relationships make a greater difference in someone attending your church than the type of music or style of ministry.
4. Intentionally Place Leadership
This is what we did at our church. When we decided to start a new campus I knew that we needed to diversify our staff and specifically with the campus pastor. We live in a very diverse city and our pastoral leadership needed to match the people we are trying to reach.
We didn’t start an ethnic work in a different part of town. We became an ethnic work committed to reaching all people by representing all people. So, we recruited and called a sharp African-American young man to lead that new campus.
We have the same heart and ministry DNA, but still intentionally diversifying. We live in the day of minority scholarships and equal opportunity employment. Millennials especially don’t understand a vocational search without multiple ethnicities included, or any group of people who gather with only one ethnicity present for that matter.
We must learn to listen to and value the thoughts and opinions of all people no matter their race, nationality, or socioeconomic status. The old adage of hear before you are heard is essential. Let’s not be quick to generalize people or devalue them unintentionally based on outward factors.
6. Stake Your Success on It
That new campus pastor I spoke of earlier is our leading strategy for growth as a church right now. We have literally staked all our success for this on Irvin.
We didn’t call him to some unimportant ministry behind the scenes. He is front and center and vital to our success; in fact, in the months leading up to the launch, he has shared the platform preaching with me on many occasions.
7. Get Beyond Race
Diversity is about much more than race. It’s about gender, sexuality, nationality, and socioeconomic status—among other things. It’s easy to think of diversity as only what we can see on the surface, but it goes much deeper than that.
It’s time our churches look like the culture, specifically that there are people in our churches who have been saved out of the habits, hangups, addictions, and sexual brokenness of our society.
It’s also time for the people of the church to pray for and welcome anyone and everyone into the front doors of the church. We need to invite all people to know the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ and the love of His Body.
8. Use Political Caution
The evangelical church in America has been a bastion for patriotism and nationalism for years. With this can sometimes come a political agenda. The church is not the place to espouse political ideologies or policies.
When the Bible speaks to an issue, preach the Bible. Don’t back up on the gospel. However, don’t make political stances that might disillusion people who are unlike you. Stick to the stuff God said. It’s easy to get sucked into a political debate that can distance people and distract from what really matters.
9. Be Real
Some try to change their personality in order to reach people of other ethnicities. Don’t be fake. Just be who you are. If you are just who you are, you’ll have a much better chance of reaching someone not like you than otherwise.
We long for the day that our churches look like heaven’s going to look. Keep praying. Keep trying. Keep reaching out. Be intentional, and the Lord will break down those barriers that our society creates.