(Photo: Tony Kim)
While most churches say they already have or are working on having a multicultural congregation, the majority fall short when it comes to reflecting a diverse community of believers coming together during church services on Sundays, said an expert on multi-ethnic church planting and staffing.
"If you were to judge church brochures across America you would say that there is not a multicultural problem in the American church," Tony Kim, former pastor at Newsong Church in Irvine, Calif., told The Christian Post recently. Kim is the Communication Lead Associate for Slingshot Group. The Orange County-based organization specializes in church staffing and coaching pastors and leaders. "So everyone is open to it, but very few are willing to make a decision to step into that."
Kim said the Internet has created a deeper transparency between the church and the community. Someone new to a community, looking for a church to attend, can simply go to a church's website, take a look at the staff page, and make assumptions as to whether the church is representative or accepting of their ethnicity.
"I tell churches that it's great if you want to hire a worship leader of a different ethnic background, but if you want to bring long-lasting systemic change then you have to have those ethnic minority leaders in the decision-making process, somewhere near the core," Kim explained. "That's where the rubber meets the road."
Intentionally growing a multi-ethnic church is still a relatively new conversation, he said, but more and more churches are talking about it.
Kim, who is Korean, said that he still observes a lot of naivety among churchgoers in the U.S. when it comes to his culture and the Asian culture in general.
Several years ago, in a predominately Caucasian church that he served as one of its pastoral leaders, he said he was the go-to person for any new Asian "guests," such as a Chinese exchange student or a Japanese missionary. The assumption was that he could translate languages simply because he "looks the same."
Kim said that even though Christians in America read the same Bible as other cultures they often do not realize how the learning process can be different.
"They don't stop to realize how Christianity and the Gospel and the Church are absorbed. It's much different than the majority Caucasian context," he said.
"A lot of well-known leaders, no matter what profession, are successful because they have this ability to cross cultures. They know how to do that and that is trickling down to churches," Kim said. "More churches are requesting someone who understands multiple cultures, and likes to lives in multiple cultures and likes to bridge those multiple cultures – they are not afraid to do that."
Prior to helping Christian leaders connect with churches for ministry work of all types, Slingshot was focused primarily on getting worship leaders positions within a church. Kim said that it was a year ago that Slingshot "stepped into this whole multi-cultural conversation."
"We all love the local church and we all recognize the fact that as wonderful and beautiful as the Church is there's nothing more that affects the church culture and strength than the type of leaders and staff it has," he said.
The big question, Kim explained, is should the Church be multi-cultural?
"It's more than arguing about what is best for the culture or best for the Church, it really needs to be looked at through a theological lens – more of a biblical mandate versus a church growth strategy or what looks good on the Internet."
Kim is part of the organizing team for a major multi-ethnic church conference hosted by Mosaix Global Network and scheduled for November. The first conference of this type was held three years ago and attended by 400 people. Organizers say Mosaix 2013 will be an even bigger event featuring 60 speakers.