Diversity is a loaded word in the church … especially in the Mainline. A church that can claim to embrace diversity immediately gets warm smiles from judicatory officials and others “in the know.” Indeed, diversity is seen by many, if not most, to be one of the most desirable characteristics of a faithful church. Whether it’s generational diversity, ethnic/racial diversity, socio-economic diversity, or whatever, diversity seems like a hot commodity.
What I’ve found, though, is many churches get the idea that diversity is an end in and of itself. I was recently at a church where their vision focused on becoming a diverse church in their diverse community. They’d invested a lot of their resources in hosting multi-language services and in trying to integrate that diversity into the larger body of the church. All seemed well and good until I asked a pointed question: “Diversity for what end?”
Suddenly the conversation stopped and puzzled looks crossed many of their faces. “What do you mean to what end?” And therein lies the problem. Diversity isn’t an end … diversity is a tool.
The mission of the church, as given to us by the founder of the faith, is to make disciples of all nations (ethnos/people groups/micro-cultures). That’s a huge task, given that we live in a growing diverse community. It used to be that First Church in Anywhereville was relatively homogenous. Back then, when we went to a church to do a consultation and pulled a demographics’ report, nearly 70 percent of the population would comprise one or two psychographic types. Today, to get a 70 percent psychographic picture of the population, we regularly have to pull eight, ten, even fifteen different types. In other words, we live in highly diverse communities. To reach a highly diverse population takes one of two things. We either need missionaries who are trained, gifted, and called to effectively reach people who are unlike themselves culturally. Unfortunately, there seem to be a limited supply of these kinds of people in our churches today.
The second way to reach a highly diverse population is to leverage the diversity that exists within the church. Diversity is a simply a means to accomplish discipleship. Whether we like it or not, homogeneity is comfortable … not just for the majority, but for everyone. People are better able to hear the Gospel in their own language, using their own technology, and incorporating their own cultural mores and stories. The easiest way to reach a particular micro-culture is for a member of that micro-culture, or a member from a closely aligned micro-culture, to proffer a faith conversation and build from there. The more diverse the congregation, the greater the number of micro-cultures that can be reached.
So, if you’re going to focus on diversity in your church, focus on it with an eye for leveraging that diversity to reach multiple micro-cultures for Jesus. Being a diverse church isn’t the goal. Being a church that effectively reaches diverse micro-cultures is.