By: James Metsger
In his book The High Definition Leader: Building Multiethnic Churches in a Multiethnic World pastor and author Derwin Grey writes:
In 1960, the population of the United States was 85 percent white; by 2060, it will be only 43 percent. The face of America is no longer just black and white, like those old televisions from back in the day. America is in high definition now, filled with different colored people. America is now a beautiful mosaic that includes Asian and Latino brothers and sisters. Since 1965, forty million immigrants have arrived in the United States, “about half of them Hispanics and nearly three-in-ten Asians.”
The makeup of our landscape is changing. This is true nationally and it is true in our own backyard. According to a recent Full Insight Report from 2016, within a 10-mile radius of Renaissance 64% of our population is white, 20% black, 9% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. Our church community lives in diverse communities. Unfortunately, we are not a diverse church. We are, by definition, a homogeneous church. A homogeneous church is a church where 80 percent or more of the individuals are of the same ethnicity. That should bother us. It bothers me.
It should bother us that we’re a homogeneous church because the picture of heaven we read about in Scripture is one of diversity.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7: 9– 10)
It should bother us that we’re a homogeneous church because when we surround ourselves with people who look like us, think like us, and have the same experiences as us we tend to lose perspective. Sociologist Michael Emerson goes as far to say that homogeneous local churches reproduce inequality, encourage oppression, strengthen racial division, and heighten political separation. We may disagree, but at the very least Emerson’s concern should give us pause. If we find ourselves surrounded by an angelic choir of people who look like us, talk like us, and think like us we may be missing out on something that God has for us.
A homogenous church bothers me because the gospel is not just good news for white, middle-upper class, college education suburbanites. The gospel brings people from different ethnicities, backgrounds, and life experiences together. It is good news for human beings regardless of how much money they make, what jobs they have, what side of the tracks they were raised on, etc.
I understand that what bothers me, may not bother you. If this is simply a personal preference you may dismiss it as such and go about your business. However, I don’t think this is just a personal preference. I think this is a gospel issue that we should pursue together as a church community. The gospel teaches us that Jesus did not come for one ethnicity, one political party, one socio-economic background, or for people from one side of the tracks. We shouldn’t either.
One day Jesus met a Roman centurion and marveled at the man’s faith. He said:
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Jesus trumps ethnicity. Jesus trumps color. Jesus trumps political party. Jesus went out of his way to include non-Jews at his table. His requirement was faith. He did not ask for ancestory.com papers. That means rich, poor, educated and uneducated, red and yellow black and white are on equal ground at the foot of the cross because, regardless of ethnicity, we share a common brokenness and need for the gospel to take root in our hearts and in our lives.
If the gospel is for the spiritually poor, the spiritually broken, and the spiritually desperate (it is) then I want us to be a church for the spiritually poor, the spiritually broken, and the spiritually desperate. Period. I have a dream that the community inside our church walls will reflect the community outside our walls. We’re not there yet. There is work to be done.