Pastors Need to Be Open to Change for Ethnically Diverse Congregations to Thrive, Say Multicultural Ministry Leaders

As the importance of thriving multiethnic churches becomes clearer to the Christian community, pastors and church leaders should be open to change and more discussion in order to create a thriving multicultural environment, say ministry leaders interested in growing healthy churches.

Tony Kim, the communications pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif., and multicultural coach for a church staffing organization, Slingshot Group, says about 86 percent of American churches have failed to meet the "20 percent" diversity criteria, meaning there is still a "huge" lack of diversity within worship houses throughout the country. Multicultural churches account for only a small percentage of churches overall.

Although progress has been made in attempting to diversify churches, Kim says there is more that can be done which begins by simply facilitating a dialogue.

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"They [pastors] need to talk about it publicly and privately. Many pastors avoid the topic in fear of saying the wrong thing," said Kim. "Instead, they should invite trusted diverse voices into the conversation from the front and in small group settings to get comfortable with the topic."

He also says creating a multiethnic church begins from the leadership and then trickles outward, attracting an influx of diverse members.

"Diversity should be represented at every level of the organization starting at the elder level. The higher in authority the representation, the faster the diversity growth," said Kim.

Elizabeth Childs Drury, a Washington, D.C.-based intercultural ministry leader, shares the same thought process but says although established monocultural churches can become multiethnic through intentional effort, it is best for churches to be multiethnic from the start.

"From the earliest communications, diversity and inclusion can be articulated clearly as part of mission, vision, and inspiring metaphors, and they can be planned into the structure, leadership, style, and programming without the difficulties of changing an existing or long-established system," said Drury.

Kim also said churches face greater difficulty taking the former approach however it is possible to reach diverse members while adding that it can even be accomplished in megachurches.

Often times, Drury says monocultural congregations in decline seek to reach out to groups of other ethnicities in their immediate communities, hoping that new alliances will revive their church however, these efforts can prove to be challenging as it involves a process of learning and change.

"Rarely do existing churches anticipate the degree of soul-searching surrender that honorable partnership will require regarding stylistic preferences and control of resources," said Drury. "We simply cannot call ourselves united or inclusive if we are not willing to share power and preference."

Part of the challenges that pastors face during the process of diverse inclusion exceeds the attempt to gain a certain number of multiethnic members, says Kim; sacrifice and learning how to foster the growth of diversity are just a few that they encounter.

"Bringing in other cultures means patience, listening, sharing stories, and building trust. It takes time and will initially seem like more pain than it's worth. However, the beauty and richness that comes as a result will be better than anyone could anticipate," said Kim.

 Both Kim and Drury agree that leaders should support and nurture diversity in all aspects of congregational ministry in order to become a successful multicultural church.

"The most compelling question is: 'Does your church accurately reflect its community?,' If it does, then you are successfully being an effective church where ever God has placed you," said Kim. "Being successful as a multicultural church means you are empowering and advocating for multiple cultures within your church and leading other churches to do the same."

Drury added, "[Churches should] cultivate a discipline and identity of what I think of as 'border crossing concern,' which is a long-term, deep-level commitment that compels us to pursue genuine, honorable relationships with people who are culturally, ethnically, economically, educationally, or otherwise different from us. The question is, 'do I see missional and spiritual benefit to border crossing?'"

In congregations where ethnic diversity abounds, Kim says the efforts to retain them should be healthy and sustainable for the overall church community, not just one group.

"All churches say they 'want' diversity but few are willing to risk what they have built for the sake of being more inclusive. Embracing and empowering another culture means a lot of change and unfortunately, too many churches are risk-adverse," said Kim.

He continues, "However, one does not dig very deep in scripture to see that God calls us to reach people that are different than ourselves. Becoming all things to all men is the ultimate form of the Gospel and the final frontier for the future church."

MOSAIX is a relational network of local church pastors/planters, researchers, educators and ministry leaders, that exists to catalyze the growing movement toward multiethnic economically diverse churches. On the Web:

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