In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.” Not much has changed since then. About 80 percent of American church-goers attend services where a single ethnic group comprises 80 percent-plus of the congregation. Meanwhile, our country is becoming more diverse. By 2045, more than half of U.S. citizens will be minorities.
Despite our many mono-ethnic churches, God is establishing a kingdom of “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). I believe that Sunday morning worship is a preview of God’s eternal kingdom and that the beauty of heaven ought to be reflected in the diversity of the church. I also believe this is difficult to achieve, but worth the effort. Churches can take bold steps towards diversity by teaching these three truths:
1. Diversity is biblical. In Genesis 10-12, God created languages and nations, and He promises blessings to those nations through Abraham. Jesus commissioned the disciples (and the church) to the nations in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8. Then in Acts 15, the early church ruled that believers do not need to be uniform in practice and tradition since they are unified by the Holy Spirit.
2. Diversity is humble. In the New Testament, the Jewish Christians struggled with ethnocentrism – the belief that their traditions were better than the Greek’s. Think about your church’s traditions: its music style, preaching style, and building style. Do you believe those traditions are superior? Would you be willing to change them in order to diversify your church? This requires sacrifice, and that is why one must be humble in order to have diversity.
3. Diversity is beneficial. Churches with diversity tend to have a deliberate culture of hospitality, making an extra effort to welcome and include newcomers. Diverse churches have increased reach to influence and gather diverse populations in their communities. Members of diverse churches tend to have a broadened understanding and application of Scripture. And it can’t be denied that diverse churches have better potluck foods!
I believe we can have more diversity in our churches if we adopt and apply these three truths, but I also know that diversity is tricky and cannot be forced. If you go to a mono-ethnic church, don’t be discouraged. You almost certainly have a great church that loves all people!