If, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week… how do we fix it? That was over 50 years ago, and it still rings true. Most churches in America have one dominant culture group. Multicultural...
If, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week… how do we fix it?
That was over 50 years ago, and it still rings true. Most churches in America have one dominant culture group. Multicultural congregations are increasing in number and proportion as demographics shift across the United States. However, in many churches, the tipping point of becoming multicultural (where 20% of the congregants are not among the dominant culture group) still seems far away. My local church (of which I am a layperson, not a pastor) has taken strides in the last few years to make our congregation more adequately match the demographics of our surrounding area, but we still find ourselves mostly white Americans. So how does one turn the tide?
Mark Hearn has written a wonderful book to help with such a transition and give general principles to get church leaders started. Hearing in Technicolor: Mindset Shifts Within a Multicultural Congregation is a wonderful testimony of faithfulness to the gospel while overcoming cultural differences. Hearn wrote another book, Technicolor, which is more of a memoir of his experience that provides reasons why a transition to multicultural congregations is so important for the American church. Hearing in Technicolor operates in the stories and experiences of many within the church to give leaders and laypeople examples of what this type of church looks like and principles to help you get there.
Hearn is a white pastor who was leading a dominantly white congregation in Duluth, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta). The demographics of his area began changing rapidly, where individuals and families from abroad were moving into Duluth in large numbers while white families were moving north. He had to make a change before church attendance declined so much that the church had to close its doors. This provides a unique dilemma compared to my area, where our church needs to be more culturally responsive to our African American neighbors in order to produce change. Hearn’s goal was to be more responsive to a plethora of different ethnic groups from many different nations. That also means many of these prospective brothers and sisters speak many different languages. I can’t even imagine the logistical questions that must be asked. To make it more effective, he has brought many people on his staff representing many different nations in order to bring changes to the internal culture and reach out to others. But in some ways, Hearn’s goal seems even more unattainable than that of my church. In others, reaching out to Black brothers and sisters in my area who do speak our language and thus have heard all the mistakes that our church and others like us have made in the past… that’s rough.
It’s heavy on my heart to see the American church (specifically Southern Baptist churches in my case) be more united ethnically so that we look more like the global church will someday in the new heaven and new earth. We’re in the perfect position to take radical steps. The only question is whether we will. I didn’t feel like I got anything close to all the answers about how to transition a church from one dominant culture to multicultural, especially in my church’s context. However, the lengths to which Hearn was able to go, and the buy-in that he was able to attain from his congregation (even the “legacy members” that had been there over 20 years) is astounding and inspirational.
One particular story that stood out to me (although not the most radical thing Hearn’s church did) was about a woman who came in who did not speak English very well and wanted to take an English class offered by the church. It was the wrong time of year for the English class, so the woman she spoke to offered to help tutor her instead. They began speaking about Jesus and the church member was able to go to the church library, get a Bible in a Farsi translation (the woman’s first language) and give it to her. The woman has been learning more and more about Jesus ever since. But that interaction could have never happened in such a way (1) the church didn’t offer English classes, and (2) the church library didn’t carry Bibles in a TON of different languages. These small ways of being responsive to the community in which we live can make a huge difference in how we reach our neighbors. It might look different in your context, and that’s part of the job that God has given us. Find out how to reach your neighbors, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever barriers are currently in place. Break the barriers; don’t succumb to them.
If you are a pastor or other leader of a church dominated by one cultural group, I implore you to read Hearing in Technicolor and consider what it means for your people. Reaching our neighbors doesn’t just mean those who are like us. It means we look for bridges to build. And building bridges takes work.
I received a review copy Hearing in Technicolor courtesy of B&H Publishing and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.