A note from Kelly King: In today’s article, guest writer, Dr. Michelle Reyes, provides some helps for ministry leaders desiring to develop a great multi-cultural church experience. She discusses the challenges and some suggestions that are extremely helpful.
My husband and I planted a multicultural church in East Austin almost four years ago, and we often find ministry leaders and lay people alike asking us, “What can we do to make our church more multicultural?”
There is no simple solution to that question. In fact, a true, multicultural church is no easy task. Sadly, as this recent Gospel Coalition article shows, many urban churches have more of an imagined understanding of race and diversity than an actual (or real) cultural representation of the city in their pews.
That is not to say that there is no hope for planting an authentic, multicultural church. However, perhaps one of the most important starting points for achieving a true and diverse flourishing of believers is to recognize that the church is never a-cultural.
What do I mean by this? The simple answer is that every church has a culture, and this culture manifests itself in everything from how long a service is to the type of music played, the preaching style, the organization of church ministries, and even the amount of time given to fellowship, food, and evangelism.
For example, in our church, the service is never shorter than two hours long. My husband preaches for at least forty-five minutes each week. We sing songs in both English and Spanish. Our small groups have dinner each week before diving into their study. Even more than that, our leaders are ethnic minorities who have grown up in the community of East Austin and know the needs of our city. Our church ministries are not your typical men’s, women’s, and children’s programs, but rather they are various partnerships with local, Christian organizations that serve people in need, from single, pregnant women to the homeless.
In short, the way our church operates reflects the different ethnicities and backgrounds of our people and, as such, when local men and women walk through our doors, they feel welcome, at home, and in a familiar setting.
It would be an exaggeration to say that every minority church is cognizant of their own cultural make-up and the way in which their ethnic background impacts their approach to the local church. However, it does feel at times that ethnic churches are more aware of their cultural orientations within ministry than white churches.
Pastor John Piper talks about this differentiation in his article last fall on Lecrae and white evangelicalism. Regarding the famous pop artist, Piper writes,
“[Lecrae] commented that his experience has been that ‘white evangelicals’ generally assume they are a-cultural and bring no cultural influence into the fleshing out of their faith. Which probably means that there is some majority-culture ‘identity development work’ to be done. That is, let there be, at least, a (growing) awareness that our expressions of faith are inevitably shaped by culture. Every expression of faith, everywhere in the world, is embedded in and shaped by culture.”
Lecrae’s plea, and in conjunction Piper’s, for white evangelicals to recognize their own cultural make-up within the DNA of their local churches is my plea as well. But I want to extend this call now specifically to the women of the church, and particularly women’s ministry leaders.
I think it a useful exercise for any women’s ministry leader to take time and reflect on the cultural make-up of her church’s women’s ministry (or related programs). Find time to ask yourself, “Do the activities in our ministry reflect majority or minority cultural values (or both)?” and “How can I better balance our women’s activities to serve, care for, and represent a more diverse range of women?”
Time is a big cultural difference. I find that white churches have a quicker “in and out” feel to both Sunday morning services as well as weekly ministry activities, whereas minority churches prefer to linger. There is something meaningful for Latinos and African Americans alike (among other minorities) of spending long, quality time together over meals and good conversation. If you want minority women to feel welcome in your women’s ministry, make sure that meals are prioritized as well as time for fellowship (preferably even in women’s homes).
Prayer is another big one. Minority women love to pray, and they devote a good deal of time in their gatherings just for prayer. How often does your women’s ministry pray together? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? I guarantee you that the more you as women pray together (and by that, I mean at least weekly), the more welcome minority women will feel in your midst.
There is so much more I could say, but I think these ideas are a good place to start. If we can become more cognizant of our own cultural influences in ministry, in particular how we spend our time, the amount of meals we share, and the prioritization of prayer, we can perhaps begin to move toward a more welcoming and multicultural make-up in the church.
Michelle Reyes, Ph.D., is pastor’s wife, German professor, and mom to a toddler. Michelle is passionate about faith, family, and diversity and has published articles with Christianity Today, Flourish, Austin Moms Blog, and more. Michelle also helped plant Church of the Violet Crown in Austin, Texas in 2014—an urban, multicultural church where her husband, Aaron Reyes serves as lead pastor. You can read more from Michelle on her blog, The Art of Taleh, or follow her on Twitter @dr_reyes2.