The first time Mark DeYmaz organized a meeting of multi-ethnic church leaders in 2004, the results were modest.
“I think we had 30 people,” said DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church in Little Rock. “And that was counting the church secretary, the sound guy, and pizza delivery driver.”
Six years later, the first national Multi-ethnic Church Conference was held. Organized by Mosaix, a church network co-founded by DeYmaz focused on building healthy multi-ethnic churches, the 2010 conference drew 400 leaders.
Their second national gathering, The Multi-Ethnic Church Conference 2013, which runs Nov. 5-6 at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach, Calif., is expected to top 1,000.
The official tally was 985 by yesterday afternoon, with people still signing up. It is also being live-streamed for those who can’t make the trip.
DeYmaz sat at a table in the church’s gym, while some of the conference’s three dozen sponsors set up their booths.
He sees the interest in the conference as a sign churches are catching up to the rest of society when it comes to diversity.
Most school and workplaces, he said, have already become diverse, often because the law or social norms require it. But no law requires churches to have a diverse congregation.
So while churches do missionary work overseas, they’ve not always reached out to other ethnic groups at home.
“We will go across the ocean, but we haven’t been willing to go across the street,” he said. He believes that is changing and the latest research supports his belief.
The 2010 Faith Communities Today Study shows racial diversity continuing to increase in congregations throughout the United States.
As Dr. Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, pointed out in an article for Huffington Post, the percentage of multiracial congregations (using the 20 percent or more minority criteria) has nearly doubled in the past decade to 13.7 percent.
More specifically, Thumma notes:
“In 2010, 12.5 percent of all Protestant Christian churches and 27.1 percent of other Christian churches (Catholic/Orthodox) were multiracial. Multiracial Mainline Protestant churches accounted for 7.4 percent of their total, while 14.4 percent of Evangelical Protestant congregations were multiracial.”
For DeYmaz, a challenge these churches face is helping members build close friendships across racial boundaries.
Those friendships take trust. And building trust takes time
To help church members build closer relationships across racial lines, DeYmaz has co-authored a daily devotional called The Multi-Ethnic Christian Life Primer, an e-book available on iTunes. He also authored Ethnic Blends: Mixing diversity into your local church and Leading a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church.
He hopes both the guide and the conference will help Christians of different races build closer friendships, so they reflect the multi-ethnic nature of God’s kingdom.
“All the world has to offer is tolerance,” he said. “We have agape love.”
Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends.