Churches taking intentional steps to grow in the diversity of their community’s representation is something to be celebrated when done in the right way. However, I’ve observed that churches don’t always consider the cost of doing so. Here are a few reasons you may not want to seek diversity in your church.
Some will feel their needs are not being met.
Building a multicultural church will require that every person sacrifice. Whether it’s the style of teaching, styles of music, or philosophy of friendships, being part of a diverse church will force people to change or even relinquish certain aspects of church that important to them. This is true even if never consciously recognized. Sometimes we don’t know what’s meaningful to us until we no longer have it.
As a church’s leadership organizes how they will minister to their community, the wider the diversity of that focus the greater the chance that certain people will feel the church is not really speaking to them. And if a church is a traditionally homogeneous group seeking to diversify, the greater this impact will be felt by those who have been used to the church existing primarily for them.
For example, a church growing in socio-economic diversity will need to minister in a manner and with application relevant to both the materially poor and well-off. If directed overly to one side, the other may ask how a particular ministry matters to them. Probably no one is all that satisfied if efforts straddle the middle ground. A church composed of primarily wealthy parishioners can plan social events requiring great financial investment but may need to question this approach if the church gathers those who may not possess as much materially. In the end, everyone will need to sacrifice something to be a part of this community.
People may feel uncomfortable.
It’s a great achievement to gather diverse peoples for a worship gathering and this is not to be taken for granted. Yet, a multicultural community truly committed to reconciliation will necessitate pushing beyond surface expressions of diversity into deeper conversation and action. Most people will celebrate a corporate worship gathering of diverse peoples. Not as many will appreciate the steps needed to engage with underlying systemic issues, including asking why most churches in America are segregated to begin with.
We often want to skip to the “how” but reconciliation needs to start with asking “why?” Questions concerning justice issues can often lead to frustration, anger, and defensiveness. Majority cultures in the church may ask why these issues need to be addressed and accuse the leadership of politically correct pandering to the world rather than faithfulness to the “real” call of the church. Minority cultures can also feel frustrated that the church is content with mere surface tokens of diversity. The leaders—especially pastors—will often bear the brunt of these tensions since most churches don’t handle tension and conflict very well.
It will slow down growth.
This will probably hit home the most but seeking diversity in your church will realistically slow down your growth. Church growth experts agree that most churches will grow more rapidly when focused on homogeneous units of people. Related to the points above, when a church can focus their efforts very specifically toward a certain demographic, the greater the likelihood that community will be drawn to that church. Community formation will not take as long as friendships will develop much more naturally with common interests, experiences, and affinities to knit strangers together.
Most churches who gather diverse people groups, experience it as a beautiful witness to God’s unity in diversity. However, it usually takes much more effort, intention, and time to develop that unified family. The honest benefit of going to an ethnically homogeneous church is that one can often feel like part of the family right away. Growing unity in diversity is a process that can take much more time, often feeling much more forced and inorganic. Factors like that and others described above work to slow down the overall growth of the church.
So why do it?
All of the above might discourage us from pursuing diversity in our churches. Why do something that is so hard and make ministry that much more challenging than it already is? I’d like to suggest that the challenges presented above may actually be one of the most effective ways you make disciples.
When people are confronted with the above, some may assess that it’s not worth the effort and leave your church. But to those who stay, they will learn that to be a part of a diverse and multicultural church will require death to themselves. They will be reminded the call to follow Christ and carry their cross means everything will not always be about them and their preferences. If they pursue genuine unity in diversity, it will reveal areas where they’re helpless to die to themselves. This is tremendously good news as it forces us to our knees, crying out to God for His mercy and grace to change. This is as powerful a form of transformation as learning in a classroom setting. It is a real way of confronting a consumeristic culture that is so prevalent in the Church. A reconciling church which calls people to die to themselves for the sake of God and others will be one of the most powerful ways to point people to the only hope we have in Jesus.