“It is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours in Christian America.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At the height of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mused the infamous comment about the church. Despite his prophetic call little seems to have changed in the 60 years since it was broadcast. A tragedy indeed.
When you read this quote what are the first thoughts that come to mind?
I surmise most would share his lament. However, doing something about it is different.
That requires response.
The question for church leaders, particularly church planters is, “what are you doing about segregation in the church?” Is there a desire to dismantle the forces of segregation? Or are we comfortable dwelling in a life surrounded by people who are the same?
Before we can figure out what we should do, we need to determine why diversity even matters in faith, church, and life.
Does Diversity Matter?
The short answer is yes! And I wish to highlight two reasons.
Firstly, diversity matters because it reflects the identity of God.
V3 is an organization devoted to building grassroots church movements across the country (and beyond). Our missionary pursuit flows out of the coreactivity of God. God is a missionary God who reaches into the history of humanity to restore all of creation. The supreme example is the sending of the Son who reconciles the world back to God.
In the same way, diversity matters because it describes the very identity of God. How so?
The Triune God is the mystery of one God revealed in three distinct Persons. The three Persons of the Trinity are not bound together by their sameness. Rather, each are celebrated for their uniqueness drawn together in oneness (same substance). The nature of the Trinity reflects a unity found in diversity.
Second, diversity is not only the identity of the Triune God, it also reflects the final look of the church.
Revelation 7:9 is one of many verses the pictures the church in its fullness: every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne. This hope, like God’s kingdom, is our pursuit in the here and now.
What does that look like? Multi-ethnic congregations that span age, demographics, sexual identity, income, gender, and more.
Yes, diversity matters, and like Dr. King’s call, Sunday morning worship should reflect gatherings that break down dividing walls rather than putting them up. A reflection of unity in diversity at work. Of course, this isn’t how it’s always been.
Church planting has long been plagued by HUP: the homogenous unit principle. Simply put, new plants were designed around sameness! The thinking sought the lowest common denominator to build resilient churches. With one target demographic sharing affinity in race, background, income bracket, and neighborhood (this was less important), building community would be easier. Leaders would only have to worry about ministering within a homogenous context. It’s a one size fits all approach built to enhance longevity.
And you know what? It works.
It’s actually easier to build churches that look the same. It’s cheaper to run, more comfortable because there are fewer conflicts, and requires less competency in leadership. But is it postured to engage the wholeness of God’s mission well?
Diversity Unto Mission
Diversity reflects the depth of God’s hope for church community, but there’s a pragmatic reason as well. Diversity is best suited to join God’s missionary activity.
America has changed and the church in nearly all of its forms is unable to keep up. Two predominant shifts worth highlighting are religious affiliation and immigration.
Religious affiliation is declining in America. In fact, within one generation half of all Americans will check the box “no religious affiliation” (consult any number of publications, PRRI being one).
There was a time when Americans sought the church for answers to life’s questions. The same can’t be said today. Culture is moving away from the church. Losing inherited cultural privilege (not necessarily a bad thing) requires new imagination to thrive in the new culture. (By the way, having diverse voices in a church community is one way to reveal our individual and corporate blindness before it’s too late.)
Immigration is also shaping the country and is making us more diverse. It also means shifts in dominant groups. White Protestants are no longer a majority segment. Although it takes time, dominant culture trends and voices will shift as well.
For example, white Protestants dominate church thought and practice, including how to church plant. Today, those in the pews or in new communities look more diverse and are looking for different voices.
We must re-imagine how to embody God’s mission in our neighborhoods, cities, and beyond. The next generation of believers want a faith beyond the guise of sameness usually found in contemporary evangelicalism. Is this something you are able to produce?
Check back in for part two, where we will explore how to build diversity in our churches.
Join a Fall 2019 Learning Cohort
Share this Post