Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Build a Multi-Cultural Church

We're going to look at a plan to help guide a mono-ethnic corps (church) to more accurately depict the culture of the surrounding community. In a world of rapidly changing demographics there are important challenges being faced by churches in diverse communities. As the body of Christ we are called to reach the “whosoever.” How can we as a church reach different ethnic groups and help facilitate a multi-cultural environment that fosters Christian harmony among diverse peoples? Let’s look at how we can build a better future together.

First of all, the goal should be to begin to make connections with different ethnic groups in the community. It’s wise to look for leaders in the ethnic community one is trying to reach, and develop personal relationships with those individuals. Christ calls us to all people groups, not just those we're comfortable with. 

Knocking on doors and developing relationships can also be a helpful way to begin to develop those connections. I would try to develop close relationships with people of various ethnicities in the community who could help teach me, and help me navigate the cultural landscape. 

Christian multicultural outreach expert M. Ortiz (1996) describes an example in which a church in Baltimore was attempting to better reflect the surrounding neighborhood which was 60% black and 40% white. The Pastor of this Baltimore church had no experience with cross-cultural engagement; but with a lot of grace, and the development of two key friendships with an African-American man and a street-wise Caucasian man, he was able to begin to learn and develop his ministry (Ortiz, 1996, p. 53). 

Once those relationships have been developed and new people are beginning to attend the corps it would be important to begin to connect with these people on a deeper level. I think this process of developing cross-cultural relationships would be greatly assisted through small groups meeting at least monthly (if not weekly) to begin to develop those relationships and deepen them through sharing honestly with one another (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 86).

The second goal I would set would relate to developing a worship service that better reflected and engaged local cultural norms. The Pastor of the Baltimore church did this quite effectively at his church (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). He described the worship service on Sunday as the most important hour of the week in regard to this plan (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). They developed a worship service in which three different styles of music were implemented: African-American worship style, contemporary praise music, and traditional hymn music (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). This helped the various cultures and ethnic groups, young and old alike, to better connect with the worship experience. If I were trying to reach African-Americans, I would implement worship songs that applied the African-American culture, and if I were trying to reach Latinos, I would look for worship music that met the spiritual needs of Latinos in the community. I would also look to provide translation services for those in the church who spoke different languages, if necessary. The entire worship service and message would have to be adjusted to better serve the ethnic groups in the community. 

However, I wouldn't want to go to far into "multiculturalism."  Multicultural engagement should be clearly different from the ideology of multiculturalism.  Multi-cultural engagement is absolutely vital to evangelism, and carrying out the great commission. But the concept of multiculturalism, the idea that cultures coming into the United States should resist assimilation to American culture is not a biblical concept, but a political ideology.  The church should reject pushing multiculturalism, and understand that our job is to evangelize and outreach to communities, and help them to come to Jesus, without undermining American culture in the process. Multi-cultural engagement means connecting to diverse culturals and helping to facilitate a church culture where different culturals can engage and interact as the unified body of Christ.

Now it's important to recognize that multicultural engagement is much than simply outreaching to different ethnicities that are represented in your community.  Though this is a key aspect of multicultural engagement. But even if you are in a majority white, or majority black or latino community, there will be subsets called "people groups" within all cultures that have various subcultures.  If your in a small community in the Midwest, you'd probably want to consider how to outreach to a people group like sports fans, or hunters and fishers, or how to outreach to millennial young adults, or how to outreach to working class factory workers, or middle class professionals.  These are all subcultures within different cultures that will find different styles of worship and preaching and evangelism appealing, and others unappealing. 

As we began to outreach to various cultures, we'd have to help establish a multicultural environment in the church. I would teach, preach, and speak regularly to my corps council, advisory board, staff, and church congregation about multi-cultural engagement. I would build up that “narrative” in their minds. I would tell that “story” of who we are as a church, and I would try to inspire the people in my church body with the mission of reaching different ethnic groups with the good news of Jesus Christ. 

I would try to win my church family over by inspiring them, and appealing to their better natures regarding developing a multi-cultural corp. This would require a great deal of prayer (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 65). It would also require many frank discussions, and the ability to work out difficult disputes and miscommunications (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 65). 

There are bound to be people in the Salvation Army corps that I lead that will push back against multi-ethnic engagement. I don’t believe this is because they are bad people, but mainly because this will be something very new to them. I would need to take the process slowly, and develop relationships with those who might struggle with the process. Some people might even leave the church. But I think overall it could be smoothed over and worked out through a lot of prayer, conversations, friendships, and inspiration for a better future.

Fourth, I would need to learn as much as I could about the cultures I would be engaging in the community. There could be some very embarrassing and confusing moments if I don’t learn how differing cultures do things; and what customs and rituals are involved in various cultures, including language barriers (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 95-96). 

One would need to avoid problems like cultural destructiveness, cultural blindness, and other problems of failing to understand and account for cultural differences (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 103). I would try to be culturally aware, culturally sensitive, and culturally competent (DeyMaz, 2007, p.104-105). I think along with this approach of being culturally “plugged in” I would also look to be inclusive in a way that shows other ethnic cultures that they are welcome to join and become a part of the church family, but also, that they are welcome to come and bring with them their cultural and ethnic traditions and express them in the community freely, as long as those traditions and cultures did not violate the scriptures (DeyMaz, 2007, p.112-113). This would help make the corps a more inclusive place with more diverse expressions of culture in its many forms. While "inclusivity" is a biblical concept, inclusivity should not extend to violations of the clear teachings of the scriptures, or lead to a rejection of the Matthew 18 concept of confronting sin in the church.  Inclusivity means providing a welcoming environment, not transforming the church into a politically correct environment pushing a progressive orthodoxy. This should go without saying, but in the current cultural tensions, we have to be wary of such political activism.

Fifth, I would look to mobilize in evangelistic efforts to reach the unsaved in diverse communities. I want the church I lead to be more than a body of Christians inside the walls of a church. I want the corps I lead to be a place of sending out evangelists and missionaries who are going, not to far away places, but to the local community, knocking on doors, handing out fliers, serving food and drink to the needy, and meeting the needs of people in the community. I think this would be vital in increasing the diversity of the corps I lead. There are so many people across such wide lines of ethnicity and culture that need Jesus. 

Reaching these people, understanding them in their cultural context, and leading them to faith in Christ will help develop the corps to be a welcoming place for people of any skin color or cultural background. Of course the growth of the corps should not be motivated by simply increasing numbers, or stats, but about bringing glory to God and leading lost people to the love of Christ (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 120-121). A healthy multi-ethnic multi-cultural church can be an incredible blessing to a community in that people are simply astounded and amazed by various cultures and ethnicities in harmony with one another (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 121).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” (Smith, 2016). Part of being a successful Salvation Army officer will be fostering an environment in the corps I lead that serves to encourage cultural engagement and multi-ethnic ministry. I intend to do my best to see that this takes place in the corps I serve in through developing connections in diverse ethnic communities, developing a diverse worship experience, helping guide the church members toward cultural engagement, and evangelizing ethnic communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of this will take much time, prayer, and wisdom. But with Jesus Christ all things are possible.

DeyMaz, M. (2007). Building a healthy multi-ethnic church: mandate, commitments, and practices of a diverse congregation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley.
Ortiz, M. (1996). One new people: models for developing a multiethnic church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.