Church Diversity

I only know Scott Williams from a distance but due to the wonders of the internet I feel like I’ve known him for years. He has a great story – one that continues to be written. In Church Diversity Scott shares much of his story with his readers. Central to that story are the complexities of the lack of diversity in the vast number of American churches. It is a point that is worth making and worth fighting to change.

I serve on a denominational board (Converge Worldwide) where we have worked hard to address the lack of diversity among our ranks. The makeup of our current board may be its most diverse ever. But with only one notable exception all of our upper level leaders are white males. The same holds true for regional directors. I’m also on a sub-committee that is planning our next national event. We are deeply committed to highlighting the diversity that exists in our churches throughout the event. But while this will celebrate diversity on one level it will not directly increase the diversity in our member churches. That is where Church Diversity comes in  –  or could.

Scott Williams very intentionally and methodically pokes a stick in the eye of the church on this topic. And he doesn’t just call out churches that are predominately white in their make-up. In chapter 3 Williams writes: “This is a wake-up call for the traditional ethnic churches, such as black, Indian, Asian, and Hispanic. The arguments that “we must remain separate because it’s about the community” or “it’s the only piece of culture that we have left” are not valid arguments. They are incongruent with who Jesus is and what the gospel is all about. Is your church preserving culture of some people or presenting the gospel to all people?”

Later Williams asks why churches use the Great Commission to justify international missions but so often fail to pursue the Great Commission (especially the ‘all nations’ part) in their own churches. He refers to this as the Great Omission.

Throughout his book Williams quotes heavily from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for good reason. Dr. King addressed the racial disparity in the church decades ago. And while we would like to believe that the ethnic diversity within our churches has changed dramatically over the past 60 years, Williams argues that it has not. To make his point he re-prints a letter written in 1954 by Dr. King and provides commentary along the way. It is a letter worth reading and re-reading.

One of the primary strengths of Williams’ book are the challenges that he presents at the end of each chapter. They  are a kind of gut-check for personal diversity that takes the information in each chapter and asks, “So what are you going to do about this?” Another strength are the video links with each chapter that would enable the book to be used for a group study.

This book is not going to be for everyone. There will be some who see diversity as a non-issue, or a cultural issue, or even as a liberal issue that doesn’t apply to the church. There are those who may still cling to a “separate but equal” approach to church. “They have their church and we have our church. What’s the problem?” To that comment I would have to reply that if that’s your position then you are the problem. When it comes to diversity in the church we can do better. We must do better.

Second chair leaders can advance diversity within the church by advocating for and championing this cause with the rest of the staff and church. When you are looking for additional paid or volunteer staff be intentional about contacting people who are not members of the majority ethnic group in your church. Some key, high visibility positions like usher, greeter, or choir member are a good place to start. But your church leadership (pastors, staff, elders, deacons) should also reflect diversity. This may be harder to achieve but be persistent. Nominate those who will bring diversity to your leadership team. Make sure your website and publications include photos that reflect the diversity in your church – or the diversity that you want to see.

What specific, intentional steps are you taking to bring diversity to your church?

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