One of the neglected elements that can strengthen congregations is diversity within a given church.
Diversity within a congregation means ethnic, generational, language, and class variation within a given church. Think of a church where members come from different groups — some are African-American, others are Asian, and others are Euro-Americans. Moreover, there are people of different age groups in this church – some young, some middle-aged, and others old. Some members come from upper class while others from middle or lower social groups of society.
Such diversity makes a church resilient, unafraid of changes, and ready to take on challenges that culture or economy brings.
Lack of diversity weakens a congregation of Jesus’ followers in subtle and crucial ways. Homogenous churches tend to be weaker in comparison with multicultural congregations.
There are three basic reasons for this weakness…
First, homogenous churches mostly consisting of one race or class or age group have difficulty generating a balanced ministry vision and actions that take into account the complexity and context of society or their surrounding neighborhood. Such churches are rigid and unable to face challenges because of the lack of internal sources stemming from diversity.
Secondly, homogenous churches do not necessarily fit into the legacy of the early apostles, who sought to bring together Greeks, Hebrews, Romans and others. They believed that Christ unites all Christians. A diverse church is living proof of that faith.
Thirdly, homogenous churches do not receive enough internal growth challenges from other images of God. There is little internal and creative tension that propels the church to find common language in order to incorporate and love radically different groups. A church that lacks diversity will sooner or later degenerate into a club of like-minded people coming from the same race, ethnicity, class, or demographics whose most important purpose is to share exclusive benefits with one another. Obviously, such a church falls short of the vision of Revelation where people of all races and languages worship the Lord (Rev. 7:9).
The question then becomes, “How can we increase awareness of your church about diversity and encourage them to be open to this wonderful gift given by a Jew from Nazareth?”
Let me offer three suggestions:
First, preach and teach the value of diversity for your congregation and for each individual. Teach about how diversity in church will influence each individuals’ relationship with God, and how it will make your congregation draw closer to God. Most congregants are not enthusiastic to explore depths of diversity in a church so you will help worshipers to understand why it matters.
Secondly, create teams to collaborate with churches from diverse backgrounds differing from your congregation. I know one congregation that invites an African American preacher from an African American church and sends its own pastor to that church to preach few times a year. Organize activities together and help people to meet, mingle, and form friendships with people from other cultures. This will open people up to possibility and alleviate their fears.
Finally, actively evangelize and invite people of different races, ethnicities, classes and languages into your church. Developing hospitality and sensitivity to others and creating a safe environment for them in the church will encourage minority members to visit your gatherings. Some may be led to become members. This invitation will also fulfill the Gospel vision of people of all races and languages meeting and finding unity in Christ.
Of course, as in any human endeavor, there is no absolute guarantee that your efforts will work always and at all times. But it is worth the effort to open your church to diversity because it will fulfill one of the visions of the apostles, who preached a gospel of reconciliation and unity in Jesus Christ.