What comes to mind when you think about the words “future faces of the church”? For some, the phrase may inspire thoughts of church visionaries. Maybe you’re envisioning the next generation of world changers in your student ministry.
But think a little differently with me. What do the people and leaders in your congregation look like? In 93 percent of American churches today, a majority of the faces are of one race.
What do you believe or hope these faces will look like five to 10 years from now? Do you care? Or are you one of the many leaders I encounter that laugh about or downplay the fact that the vast majority of U.S. churches are racially segregated?
Nearly 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. had the courage to address and challenge what he saw, calling 11 o’clock on Sunday morning “the most segregated hour in America.” Unfortunately, his observation still rings true today.
Rewind 2,000 years, and you find another leader even more passionate about a united kingdom. Jesus called for His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:16-20). The words “all nations” indicate that Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the starting point of what would later become the proclamation and sharing of the Gospel to everyone regardless of race, gender, socioeconomics or geography. Clearly, diversity is important to God.
So why aren’t our local churches following this mandate? In my work with churches and organizations, I continue to see cultural taboos as primary culprits—the idea that we’re not supposed to talk about three volatile subjects: religion, politics and race. But recent U.S. Census statistics reveal dramatic demographic shifts that cannot be ignored. Minorities make up nearly half the children born here, and minorities are expected to become the country’s majority over the next 40 years. Clearly, “making disciples of all nations” requires that we start the conversation and be bold enough to ask the tough questions—of ourselves and of our churches.
When I meet with leaders, I always start with what I call the ABC’s of Church Diversity: Assess, Believe and Change.
ASSESS Where are you and your church in your efforts to cultivate diversity? Begin by asking yourself and your staff telling questions:
Yourself: What is my personal history in dealing with issues of race and prejudice? Do I have genuine relationships with people of different ethnicities?
Your staff: Is ethnic diversity represented at high levels of leadership within our church? Within our denomination or network? Does someone of a different ethnicity from the senior pastor or teaching pastor share the teaching responsibilities?
BELIEVE Once you as the leader personally believe in something, it’s much easier to take the risks, cast the vision and inspire others. You can’t lead your church to embrace a culture of diversity if you don’t believe in the importance of developing that culture in your own life.
CHANGE This requires courage and intentionality. What steps and risks are you willing and planning to take to enact change? Fortunately there are more and more leaders we can learn from who are demonstrating this kind of courage: Michael Emerson, Efrem Smith, Mark DeYmaz, Christian Smith, Tony Evans, Bill Hybels and recently John Piper, to name a few.
As I travel around the country and hear stories about what God is doing to build a diverse kingdom, I get really excited about the future of the church. I truly believe that this growing conversation is a move of God. Together, we can change the face of the church.