9 Reflections on Ethnicity, Race Relations, and the Church

On Martin Luther King Day, 2016, here are some of my reflections on ethnicity, race relations, and the church based on my years of studying the North American church:

  1. Many church leaders don’t know the ethnic makeup of their community. When we ask in our consulting work for leaders to describe their community, their descriptions often don’t match the demographic reality around them. Cocooned in their churches, they don’t really know their own mission field.
  2. Prejudice is still alive. Church members may try to couch their words in “Christian-ese,” but sinful racism still persists.
  3. Church leaders are wrestling over whether all churches must be multi-ethnic. Some are adamant that anything less than a multi-ethnic congregation is not thoroughly biblical. Others contend that the New Testament does not forbid a church of single ethnicity as long as that church understands its responsibility to proclaim the gospel to all people. This discussion is not likely to end soon.
  4. At the same time, the commitment to multi-ethnic churches is growing – particularly among young leaders. Viewing the church as a picture of the kingdom to come, they affirm that the church should reflect the picture of Revelation 7:9. This emphasis has led to strong obligations to ethnic diversity in the church. 
  5. Models of multi-ethnic churches vary. I’ve seen at least three: (a) single congregations with pockets of ethnics among them; (2) multiple ethnic congregations meeting under the roof of the same church building; (3) ethnic congregations as a component of a multi-site congregation.
  6. Many churches still hold to the “y’all come” approach to reaching ethnics. They fail to recognize cultural differences and assume that ethnics must simply adjust to fit into their church. Consequently, they miss some opportunities to reach ethnics.
  7. Many believers are willing to go overseas to take the gospel to ethnics but are unwilling to go across the street to do the same. God is bringing the world to us, but that doesn’t mean Christians are always willing to take advantage of that opportunity.
  8. Many ethnics who join churches made up predominantly of another ethnicity are on the fringe of their own group. That is, it’s not uncommon that ethnics who do join other churches are those who share linguistic, educational, and economic similarities with that church.
  9. The gospel has the power to break racist strongholds. That’s a biblical truth for all, an experiential reality for many who’ve repented of their racism, and a witness to a fractured world.

What other reflections would you add?


  • Donna Lawlor says:

    What about empowering indigenous churches by training multilingual multicultural pastors in their heart language? Rather than having a culturally American worship via an interpreter take some of the funding wasted in numerous campuses to support a Deaf, Spanish, Haitian or any other language church.

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