Martin Luther King Jr. often lamented that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour of the American week. In their 2000 study, Divided by Faith, sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson documented the depth of that segregation, especially among evangelical churches. The picture they painted was not pretty. For a variety of reasons, evangelical churches tended to be more segregated than other churches. It’s interesting that Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li were inspired by Michael Emerson’s depressing book “Divided by Faith”. For those who haven’t read it yet, it describes lasting multi-ethnic churches as sociologically impossible. Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity into Your Local Church is the story of how it has been possible with God’s help, not only for Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, but also for several other cited examples to become truly multi-ethnic (defined as no more than 80% from any one ethnicity.)
One of the problems that faces any multi-ethnic community is the logistical one of how to properly integrate many diverse cultures without forcing its members to conform to the dominant paradigm or water down their heritage. Through the course of the book we learn about seven barriers that religious leaders must overcome when they start a multi-ethnic church or begin to incorporate other cultures into a preexisting congregation:
Perhaps the biggest challenge to be overcome is that of doctrine. A poignant phrase in the book reads:
“…much of what passes for religious doctrine or practical theology in our churches today is personal, preferential, or culturally bound. … The ability to accommodate various forms of evangelical faith and worship without compromising doctrinal beliefs is an essential characteristic of those who would successfully brew ethnic blends.”
Like many of the books in the Leadership Network Innovation Series the authors write very honestly, sharing step by step how they’ve made changes in their church, and the successes and failures that they’ve had with these. The multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church model that Mosaic displays so well is something that can be emulated. “Ethnic Blends” is indeed a vibrant blueprint for building a diverse and vibrant church that shines just as brightly with a thousand various colours all radiating the same blinding light of God.
While the book is designed to focus on the church and race I think the issues they raise go far beyond ethnicity, and even beyond economic diversity. There are many churches that are simply not in a very ethnically diverse community. But every church has differences to bridge, for example generational, political. There are so many issues in our world of “subcultures” that divide that are not central to the faith. What does a church look like that stands for truth and grace, and keeps Christ at the centre as the main thing?