There are a lot of reasons to grow our congregations into multiethnic, multiclass, multigenerational communities. This is what I learned from Dave Olson of the Evangelical Covenant Church of America, at a presentation during Exponential 2011 last week:
Reasons to Become Multiethnic, Multiclass, Multigenerational Congregations
· It’s the right thing to do. We’re all people who grow faithfully best together.
· Monoethnic churches reproduce inequality and affirm oppression – in fancy educational language, it is the implicit curriculum – the teaching – of church life.
· Monoethnic churches strengthen racial division and political separation – again, because what we live is separation, rather than meeting and understanding our neighbor.
· Monoethnic monoclass churches keep us from dealing “honestly with the corrosive effect of affluence on our personal lives.” Why? Churches not only separate by race/ethnicity, but by class and we are far less motivated to know our neighbor’s situation and feel like we have enough when we live in the same kind of separation American housing already generates – competitively, rather than compassionately.
All that same stuff about division and not knowing and caring well for each other that applies to race/ethnicity, applies also to class and age.
We know that we need 20% of American congregations to become intentional multicultural, multiclass, multigenerational (M-3) congregations for all congregations taking that diversity seriously. 20% is where accountability in democratic communities begins to be effective.
Gregg Kappas, a long-time pastoral coach and seasoned minister, in conversation with Shaun King of Courageous Church, the ABCS of becoming intentionally multiclass, multigenerational, and multicultural:
· Attitude to Worship Arts
· Building Relationships
· Cross-Cultural Staffing
Our Attitude to Worship matters. Worship is for giving thanks, for celebration, for turning to the holy, for traveling through and forming our spiritual lives, for offering ourselves to what matters most. Transformation Church, an M-3 community in Ft. Mills, NC, puts it this way: Upward (to God), Inward (Our Selves), and Outward (The World). Worship grows us in all three ways. If we offer only one style of worship, with one or even a dominant cultural flavor, then we’re teaching two things that diminish our calling: assimilation and that dominant culture matters more than everyone else. Healthy M-3 worship will reflect the cultures gathered and the cultures of the wider community, involve and invite people from all economic levels, and involve and invite people of all ages. At Davies Memorial UU Church, visitors are invited with a FAQ, with the mission statement clearly saying they are multicultural, and with clarity about sources of music that shows accommodation, not assimilation.
We have to Build Relationships, thick, meaningful, important relationships, in mixed multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass small groups. One of the things I appreciate about Transformation Church is that they have no affinity groups – because those corrode their mission. Everything they do as a church builds and nurtures thicker relationships between people across age, class, and culture. All members 12 and older at Transformation serve on worship teams and are in worship. All small groups at Transformation have people from all ages, all classes, and the cultures present. Courageous Church in Atlanta builds relationships through missional outreach and service to the larger community, like its Home For Haiti Program, feeding people, and tending the other works of justice, activism and mercy we see the early church doing in the Book of Acts. It is intentional and messy, but it you look at a congregation like Mosaic in Little Rock, AR, you’ll see how deep, meaningful relationships have borne fruit over more than a decade of nurturing. Mosaic isn’t part of the Little Rock community; it reflects the Little Rock community, drawing from all segments of society, connected to all the divided communities within the city.
We need Cross-Cultural Staffing – paid and volunteer. The fastest way a visitor can have a sense of possibly belonging is to see some aspect of our selves in a place – language, ability, age, race/ethnicity, class, gender or sexual expression. The fastest way we will know that the community is intentional about being in deep and meaningful relationship across social barriers and live what we preach and teach is when we experience cross-cultural staffing at every level and way of being church together – inside and outside the walls, through the leadership and through the followership. That’s when we are safe enough to risk being messy together, practicing cross-cultural engagement, learning from and teaching one another, discovering what we share and what we don’t, and honoring each other in our differences as well as what we share. Cross-cultural staffing also keeps us honest about accommodating, not assimilating, and paying attention to the real experiences and perceptions of our shared life of faith. Derwin Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church, was so committed to showing cross-cultural staffing that in his first year of ministry, he divided his salary in two so Transformation could add Paul Allen as executive pastor. Transformation's team clearly reflects their community.
We don’t want to undermine and inadvertently teach against our faith by living in ways that subvert growing that faith fully. That’s why we need to pay attention to the ABC’s of Multicultural Multiclass Multigenerational Congregations.