Can A Church Become Multi-Ethnic?

In my last blog titled, Integrating Worship in Segregated Communities, I made some fairly strong comments about my thoughts on whether a church could transform itself from a homogenous church into a multi-ethnic church. In the aftermath, I received some healthy pushback from both inside and outside of my ethnic community. I appreciated the opportunity to explore my thoughts with those who felt differently than I, and while the pushback was a healthy way to process my thoughts, I still feel the same today as I did when I wrote the blog. 

Nevertheless, I will acknowledge that my view is only one of many that exist. I will also acknowledge that there could be exceptions to my rule of thought. However, based on my experience and high level of cultural competence, I believe I can speak as intelligently as anyone on the topic of multi-ethnic ministry in the city of Milwaukee. Yet, I remain open to critique as I am not the only voice.  Consequently, the portion of my blog that was brought into question was as follows:

I am not talking about a multi-site church that is dominated by one race of people assimilating into the dominance of the other, but rather an autonomous church plant that respects and honors the culture of the community for which it serves. There are churches who have a desire to become multi-ethnic and my hat goes off to them for their willingness to try. Still, the truth of the matter is, churches can’t become multi-ethnic because it is not in their DNA. Multi-ethnic churches can only be birthed; therefore, instead of attempts to become multi-ethnic, churches should plant multi-ethnic churches. Case in point, a Black man could never change his DNA and become a White man. However, a Black and White couple could birth a multi-ethnic child that has the DNA of both. The same principle holds true for birthing a multi-ethnic church.

Let me first say that there is nothing wrong with one race of people assimilating into the church culture of another race of people; however, I don’t consider that multi-ethnic ministry, I consider that multi-ethnic fellowship. In other words, I would call it an assimilation model of multi-ethnic ministry. Again, nothing wrong with that so long as the gospel is moving forward. 

My second point in that blog also received some pushback. I maintained that churches could not become multi-ethnic because it was not in their DNA. However, while having lunch with a pastor friend of mine, I was challenged on this point. He brought to my attention that there was a church that had been predominantly Black for over 15 years but over the last two, had shifted to a multi-ethnic church and was having some success. I had to go see it for myself. I wanted to know whether this was an assimilation model or not but after attending the services, I stood to be corrected. 

There was multi-ethnic leadership, staff, worship, and teaching. The caveat here was this was a smaller church (no more than 100 people) and I wondered whether becoming a muti-ethnic church was easier to do for a smaller church than a larger one. So after attending the service, I followed it up with a phone call to the pastor of that church. He maintained that he disagreed with my view that a church can’t become multi-ethnic, but he also emphasized how difficult it was, and still is to move in that realm. 

Outside of this particular church, I was not able to locate any others that had successfully transitioned to multi-ethnic leadership, staffing, worship, teaching and decision making. For many churches, this is still a work in progress and again there is nothing wrong with the attempts to progress in that direction. The heart behind my pessimism was due to the lengthy amount of time and difficulty it can take for a church without multi-ethnic DNA to become multi-ethnic. Multi-ethnic ministry is messy and very few people are ever prepared to get dirty.

Could it happen? Yes! Will it be difficult and time consuming? Yes! Be that as it may, the point I was trying to make in my last blog was the easiest and fastest road to a multi-ethnic church is one that is birthed as opposed to one that is shifting. At the end of the day, it boils down to preference. If you prefer a long gradual and difficult process, then a shift could be in order but if you prefer to see a right now approach to multi-ethnic ministry, then an autonomous church plant would be the best way forward.

Whatever way forward one chooses, a point of contention will be in how one defines multi-ethnic church. Specifically from someone who is not part of dominant society. As a minority, there are seven areas I look at that defines a church as either a multi-ethnic assimilation model or integration model Those seven areas are as follows:

  1. Leadership
  2. Staff
  3. Decision Making
  4. Worship Style
  5. Worship Team
  6. Teaching
  7. Contextual Theology

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the assimilation model so long as the gospel is going forth. In an assimilation model, you have multi-ethnic people sitting in the pews but assimilating to the dominant group in the core seven areas listed.

In the integration model, the seven areas are integrated across the board. The ethnic group making up the dominant demographic in the church would not hold more than 60% control of each of the seven areas in the multi-ethnic integration model. In this model, the multi-ethnic church would go well beyond having diverse people sitting in the pews but will possess true diversity across all seven areas. 

To determine where you stand in this area review the percentage of minority representation you have in each area and score accordingly.

Author: Kurt Owens

KURT OWENS is a church planter specializing in multi-ethnic ministry. He serve as President of the Milwaukee Declaration, which is a group of diverse pastors from the greater Milwaukee area who stand as one against racial divides. He has been in ministry for 19 years and also chair the board of Bridge Builders, a community organization revitalizing neighborhoods through Gospel impact and cultural exchange. He holds a B.A. in Business from Concordia University; an M.A. in Christian Ministry form Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary; and is currently finishing up his Doctoral studies in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University.

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