The other day I was on Facebook and Twitter having the same conversation. To be clear, I didn’t plan that, it’s just how social media presented itself. It was regarding the topic of intentionally pursuing ethnic diversity in the church, if that church was in an ethnically diverse area. At the end of both conversations the response was the same. It could be boiled down to something akin to,
“We should NEVER pursue ethnic diversity in the church. We should just preach the Gospel”.
One person who argued against me was a prominent black pastor and the other was in a group where white people were the majority. I point out these dynamics to show this was a broad conversation. So why write about it? One reason is because I thought others may find this interaction interesting and another reason is that I think this topic of pursuing ethnically diverse churches is important.
What I proposed in both interactions hushed the dissenters. My position was simple. If you are in an ethnically diverse community the churches in that community should pursue ethnic diversity. This was not a popular idea. At first, I thought the push back was due to terms and what I meant, but no, after going through all the details it was clear, this was not considered a Gospel pursuit. Here are some of the comments I received:
“Creating multi-ethnic attendance as an issue is yet another way to undermine the gospel” or
“Last time I checked there are no ethnic groups in Christ”
“Many consider the intention to become a more diverse church, in ethnic terms, to be strange because it is strange. Diversity is a secular and political concept that has no place in church; once again, all are welcome.”
That last comment really makes one wonder what heaven looks like for him, but for now, I will leave that aside.
As you can see the comments were used to enslave the diversity idea. The consensus was clear, this is said to be a sinner’s game, not a God honoring pursuit. Their goal was to beat the idea into submission and then to discard it. They wanted nothing more than to shackle and lock it away into the chilling darkness of worldly rhetoric, never to be seen or heard from again.
The Demographics Argument
Upon listening I asked a question that no one would answer. Except, there was this one poor fellow that made a comment to undermine the argument, but alas, he failed. (more on that in a bit).
I began with these questions:
- Does your church intentionally pursue teenagers?
- Does your church intentionally pursue singles?
- Does your church intentionally pursue people who can sing?
Knowing most every church has pursued these demographic groups I then asked, “Can anyone explain to me why the demographics of Age, Marital Status and Talent can be pursued but not ethnicity? We have youth events to bring them into the church, right? We have singles nights to bring people in the church, right? How is this demographic of ethnicity different, I asked? One response was to reject the definition of “demographic”, but a quick copy and paste of Webster stopped that in its tracks. The next response said no group should be pursued. That response seemed a little extreme, but if true, it would defeat my argument; however, I have never heard anyone say the youth outreach downtown is a worldly idea that dishonors Christ, have you? Finally, I received this response when I asserted that what we see in Rev 7:9 is that diversity starts now, not somewhere out there in the future.
“Actually, it started the moment Jesus Christ was resurrected. The first example being when God told Peter in a vision that “you shall not make unclean what I have made clean.” Shortly thereafter Peter went to the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius and baptized him and his family. Thanks be to God!”
To which I responded:
“Oh yeah, when Peter sought out on purpose with intention the ethnic Greek? Yes, I remember that 😉”
Evidence of This Pursuit
As I was watching them struggle and squirm trying to find some difference in the ethnic demographic versus the others mentioned I gave them evidence. In my church it was found that the Hispanic community (some argue this is a race some say it’s an ethnicity) was large and growing. Our church made intentional plans to pursue this demographic based on their ethnicity and guess what? It exploded! They have grown into the thousands and it was all because they were sought out because, in part, of their ethnicity. To be clear, ethnicity isn’t the only criterion, but it is one the church can use to glorify Christ.
Make no mistake, if the end of this pursuit is just so we can say we have a multi-ethnic church, then secular and worldly that pursuit would be. But if the pursuit is to provide a picture of the kingdom of God here on earth, now, to the Glory of God, then that is a Holy pursuit. That isn’t a secular or worldly idea, that is a God idea.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.Rev.7:9