Times have changed. Cultures have shifted. The landscape of just about every community has experienced some level of ethnicity change. America’s melting pot has become more of a hearty stew, with various chunks of population bringing extraordinary, and sometimes overpowering flavor, to a single city block. In many places, the dream to be an American has morphed into a desire to maintain one’s culture within the shores of economic opportunity. In a very real and amazing sense, America has become a much more colorful place, even in towns once marked by a single identity.
How is your church doing with that reality?
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Church Growth movement brought us the principle of homogenous congregations. Committed to growing congregations, sometimes at the expense of producing healthy ones, pastors and other local leaders were encouraged to target specific populations, believing that people who shared much in common would be more likely to populate and produce a growing church. And there were some significant successes.
But there were also a large number of people who came to conclude that such ideas ran counter to the nature of the Church. In fact, many observers frown on the days of such growth pursuits, believing that more than a few biblical ideals were compromised in the pursuit of sheer numbers.
Homogeneity is a common reality in human organizations. Like begats like. We are naturally more comfortable with people who look like us, think like us, and act like us. Yet, somehow the Church is designed differently. The Book of Revelation anticipates a day when folks from every “tribe and tongue” stand together around God’s throne. And there are many congregations that have figured out how to get a head start on that day.
7. Ethnic Ratios
Some have suggested that the faces sitting in your local church each Sunday should at least mirror the diversity of your community. Now that’s a worthy goal, but it’s probably not reasonable. You see, rarely does your community just wander into your church at average rates. Instead, churches that are reaching various ethnic and racial groups are doing so on purpose. And when these new friends begin to respond, they often do so in numbers. So a white church that launches ministry into their now Hispanic neighborhood may ultimately see more than an average number of Hispanic folks begin joining them for worship. The flow of international friends (those born in other nations) may quickly accelerate once you make a real effort to welcome them and care for their needs.
The goal of ethnic ratios is to recognize who we have made welcome, to whom we have shown we love, and who have we desired to know. Often these folks don’t get that kind of welcome elsewhere, so the church can see its diversity follow its effort, regardless of the percentages of your community’s latest demographic study.
The math isn’t hard. Just ask: What percentage of our Sunday attenders are Korean? How many students in our youth group are African-American? In a community that is increasingly diverse, there are a variety of people to reach, so how are we doing with that? If your congregation simply decides such folks can “come if they want to,” you may actually be insisting that those who do find their own way to fit in with us.
As a pastor of a congregation with more than 50 nations attending, I can tell you that these new friends may quickly prove to be the most committed, faithful, and supportive people in your congregation. In many cultures, the local church is also a centerpiece of community activity, so church is a place to bring friends and meet others. If you open your heart to people from other cultures, you may ultimately see several of these families come be a part of your church.
So, how is this a church health metric? The ethnic ratio of your church reveals the openness and true outward focus of your congregation. You may have various outreach events, but if the people we meet at those don’t feel accepted among us, how long will they stay? A diverse church is likely a healthy, open, and outward thinking church.
Perhaps the inverse question is the one we should be asking. If our church lacks diversity, is there a health reason why?