‘Minister to Your People.’ That is what my husband was told back in the late 1990’s, on his journey to follow the path God had placed in his heart. Since he is a man of Hispanic heritage, for most, it would make sense that he would lead a solely Hispanic congregation. But who exactly are ‘our people’ to a Puerto Rican man
and a Polish/Bulgarian/Who Knows What Else woman
with African-American and Vietnamese foster children
Starting out, my husband was told by leaders flat out that a diverse church ‘Won’t happen. We’ve tried it before, and it didn’t work.’ Thankfully God soon opened many doors and also led us to connect with others with a vision that expanded beyond those boundaries. For over ten years now, we’ve served and gotten to know such a breadth of people from many cultures and walks of life. So what do you call that church?
And now, over ten years later, I am still confounded by the fact that churches are still referred to as ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Asian’, etc. I can’t help but feel misunderstood when we get pigeonholed as a ‘Hispanic’ church. All of the reporting forms and surveys we fill in typically only allow you to check one box regarding church culture. So which box? The people we serve span several cultural groups: African-American, Hispanic (and within that group there are sub-groups represented: Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc), Asian (Hmong, Vietnamese), and White, or a combination of any of the above. And our youth group is even more diverse, if you can believe that’s possible. So, please, again, tell me, what do you call that church?
EMF presenting Tiffanys going away to college quilt
While we are a ‘small’ church, I believe God has begun a great work. I recall early discussions as our ministry was just beginning, where there was such hyper-sensitivity among leaders regarding race. ‘Do you prefer to be called Anglo, or European, or White?’ That was a time in our country where there was a strong push for ‘political correctness’, which in many ways put a wall up. People were hesitant to ask real questions for fear of offending someone by saying the wrong thing. Over the years, a sense of familiarity has developed as we’ve found connections beyond ‘race’ – in our life experiences, in our shared beliefs, struggles and triumphs. There is great beauty in hearing someone say they felt welcome because everyone is genuine. That did not happen unintentionally; it has taken years to develop. I believe that getting out of our comfort zones as it relates to race creates a much richer, fuller experience in life as well as ministry.
Now, consider the growing use of technology. The subsequent generations have much more easily embraced diversity. Social networking sites allow us to connect with friends spanning from Dubai to Duluth. Beyond that, even families are increasingly multi-cultural. The days of ‘Black, White and Brown’ have become a beautiful mosaic of shades that cannot be so easily labeled. Take a look at diversity statistics – Slightly more than one-third of the population of the United States – 34 percent – claims “minority” racial or ethnic heritage, a jump of 11 percent from 2000. The 2000 census was the first time people could identify themselves as having more than one race or ethnicity. In 2000, 6.8 million people reported more than one race.
How will we (as a church body) be ready to serve the coming generations, whose focus will not be based primarily upon cultural identity?
Some links about diversity:
Summary of Key Cross-Cultural Church Planting Principles / Urban Church Plant School
U.S. Minority Population Continues to Grow
US Census Reports