-by Pastor Mike Middaugh
A recent study by LifeWay Research (which you can find here) shows that racial diversity within Christian churches is still more of a dream than a reality. In other words, we are not quite there yet.
Some of the key statistics from the study are listed below.
- 85% of senior pastors of Protestant churches say that every church should strive for racial diversity.
- 13% of senior pastors of Protestant churches say they have more than one predominant ethnic group in their congregation.
- 78% of Americans say every church should strive for racial diversity.
- 51% of Americans say they would be most comfortable visiting a church where multiple ethnicities are well represented.
I have experienced both diversity and a lack thereof in churches and would sum it up in this way. Racial diversity within a church can be very hard to create – especially if the surrounding neighborhoods are not diverse. The first family or individuals with a different background invariably feel like outsiders, even when the congregation does everything right. This feeling is heightened if a church’s worship style is effectively mono-cultural. For example, many Lutheran churches worship in a style derived from their German and European backgrounds. To those with other backgrounds, this style of worship can feel extremely dry or lacking in emotion.
On the flip side, when racial diversity in a congregation does happen, it is a truly beautiful glimpse of the gospel at work. This has been my experience at Calvary, and I have been humbled and blessed to be a part of it. Racial diversity stretches us and teaches us. It helps us to see the greatness of God and the complexity of his creation. It also teaches about grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, all of which are aspects of the gospel at work.
But this does not mean diversity is always easy.
Worshiping God is one of the life’s most intimate and personal experiences. For this reason, language barriers and worship style differences can make diversity a challenge. Contrasting cultural expectations and traditions can also raise challenges from time to time. If you moved across the globe and had to learn how to worship in German, Mandarin, or Swahili, you can imagine the length of time it would take to feel at home. Our default is to seek out what is comfortable and predictable especially when it comes to matters of the heart and spirit.
But seeking cultural, racial, and generational diversity is a battle worth fighting, especially in diverse areas.
As the Gospel was first preached, Paul’s example shows that God was not content to stop at the dividing lines of nations or tribes. Instead, the Gospel has always been meant to be translated and communicated, expressed and experienced by all people in all places. It is a story much larger than any one ethnicity or nation and it has the power to bridge gaps and break down barriers.
More than anything else, the story of a God willing to die to reconcile his people, to him and to each other, is meant to be one thing we can all hold in common in the midst of an often polarized world.