In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “11A.M. Sunday Is Our Most Segregated Hour.” In the article, he called for white ministers to stand up against the racial segregation and oppression that was plaguing the nation. Thankfully, since this article was written, many clergy and churches have taken the lead in restoring race relations in our nation. Unfortunately, many churches and clergy have failed to achieve the goal of a desegregated church. While some churches, especially in larger cities and suburbs, have achieved racial harmony, many churches in smaller cities and communities have failed to successfully integrate. For many of these churches, it has not been for lack of desire or effort. Many churches have seen the communities around them changing racially, they have seen the need to have a racially-diverse church, but for whatever reason they simply have not been able to effectively reach and keep members of another race in their congregations. This article is my best attempt to offer some advice on how to do that.
Before we begin, there are a few things that I need to point out. First, it is important to note that this article is primarily written to white churches that are trying to become multi-racial. Of course, some of the same principles in this article will apply to all churches, but it is primarily geared towards my white brothers and sisters in Christ. Secondly, it is important to note that this article is for churches who want to match the diversity in their church with the diversity they see in the neighborhood surrounding their church. Not every neighborhood/city is multi-racial, so obviously churches in those neighborhoods would not be able to reach out to different races. As I stated earlier, I believe many white churches want to reach out to their black and brown neighbors. I believe they try to reach out to their black and brown neighbors. I believe they often have the best intentions, but often times they still fail. This article is to help those churches. Finally, I want to note that these are just a few pointers that I have picked up over the years of serving in a multi-racial church. Our church is nowhere near perfect in this area, and on a lot of these things, we have a long way to go. But we have been a multiracial church for over 35 years, and I think there is something to be said of that. Also, I realize that every church is different and what may work for one church may not work for another. This article simply offers my best advice for churches who feel called to become multi-racial and want to know more about how they can do that. These are simply some points to get us thinking.
So how can our white churches that so desire more effectively become multi-racial churches? These are simply some ideas to start with.
Consider joining or merging with a traditionally black church: Often times we think of multi-racial churches only in terms of black people coming to our white church. What if we turned that notion on its head? What if we became faithful, lifelong members of a traditionally African American church? What if we sat under the leadership of a black pastor and made a commitment to fellowship with our black brothers and sisters in Christ? Yes, it may be awkward at first being the only white family in the church. Yes, it may be a totally different “cultural experience.” Yes, it may be a sacrifice. But in the end, isn’t that what we are asking black families to do when we ask them to join our church? It is often times awkward, different, and a sacrifice for a black family to join a white church. What if we made the same sacrifice we are often asking others to make? If we did, it might not look as flashy or be as popular, but it would achieve the result of a multi-racial church.
Take time to listen to a different perspective on issues: You may not agree with Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the Pledge of Allegiance in protest, but many of our black brothers and sisters in Christ do. This doesn’t mean that you are wrong and they are right or vice-a-versa. With many issues it might simply mean that they see things from a different perspective than you do. Take time to listen because nothing will turn a person off more than you being dismissive of their concerns and viewpoints. Try to see things from their perspective and try to understand why something that you might see as totally harmless might be totally offensive to them. If you do, then likely they will do the same for you.
Hire a person of a different race to be on staff or place them in a position of leadership: When I first got to Main Street, we had very few, if any black people in a leadership role. Since our church was about 50% African American, I began praying for a more diverse leadership. It took several years, and we still are working in this area, but we finally have black staff members and a more multi-racial leadership. This has helped show the community and our church that we are more than a bunch of white people trying to reach a bunch of black people. We are a group of all races who stand together as the Body of Christ. And together as equals, we will be able to reach the lost and dying world around us.
Make sure the rest of your life reflects the way you want your church to look: This is true for any aspect of our Christian walk. We cannot live one way at church, but a different way at home. So how can we expect to have a multi-racial church if we don’t have any other multi-racial relationships? Have you ever had a person of a different race in your home? Or taken them out to eat? Or even had a conversation outside of work or church? If you haven’t, then how can you expect to have true multi-racial relationships within the church? Most people are far more concerned with your genuineness than they are with worship style or preaching style.
Stay away from overly political rhetoric: I am not saying that you should never discuss politics or make political statements from the pulpit. There are many issues that need to be addressed as wrong and sinful that also happen to be political. But there is a huge difference between calling out a sin issue and blindly endorsing a political party. Remember that the wise words of Jesus when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Be willing to try new things: Every church does particular stuff that makes them who they are. They have particular styles, outreaches, strategies, and ways of doing things that form their identity. If God has truly called you to be a multi-racial church in the area, then some of those things might have to change. Never change the core message of the gospel, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Changing your worship style or type of outreach may make people of other races feel more comfortable in your church. Just remember, however, that changing these things will only make your church more welcoming. It is genuine Chirst-like love and relationships that help a church become and stay multi-racial.
Always listen to God’s voice: In the end, this is always the most important thing. Is God even calling you to focus on becoming a multi-racial church? Is your church ready for this? Should we change our worship style or preaching style? Should we hire a multi-racial staff? How much should we focus on this goal? These are all important questions that churches should ask. If the pastor and congregation are not listening to God’s voice, then it doesn’t matter how much emphasis you place on these areas. And only with God’s help and God’s calling can a church truly become a Christ-centered, gospel-sharing, multi-racial church.