This is the fifth in a series of posts that explore Mission, Missions, and Short Term Mission Trips. In this post Shellie Sampson addresses one of the implications of living life on God’s mission, which is that joining God in His mission means engaging in the multicultural context we find ourselves in. How do we do that as a church here and now? 

people praying

by Shellie Sampson, III

Even when people of another ethnic group come to visit our churches, they frequently don’t return. Why is that? The reasons can be many. Perhaps the place to start is with the basics. First of all, are we praying as a body for spiritual harvest? The entire congregation needs to be conscious of the call to reach all people.

We also need a plan for assimilating people of all colors who visit our church. This includes an impact ministry team, a thank-you letter, and a follow-up phone call the next Friday or Saturday letting them know that we really do want them to return. All visitors are a divine appointment for us.

It is important to set an overall tone in a church toward diversity. Attendees from other ethnic groups notice if we have ethnically diverse material on hand in our lobbies, pictures on the walls, and acknowledgment of special occasions which are often overlooked in certain churches, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month (February), and Latin Heritage Month (March). During these times it is important to share moments in history and even have special events. Sermons, when appropriate, and music should always include ethnic diversity.

If you have frequent visitors or members from various cultures, try to include songs in those languages and share testimonies. As cultures grow within the congregation, work all the more to enhance church life with Christ-honoring expressions and decorations. This allows attendees to have a sense of ownership and feel at home.

As the congregation transitions, so must the leadership. We must continually realize that it is God who builds the house, and so we must be careful not to try to make something happen on our own but rather identify potential leaders in the church and nurture them into greater ministry. As God grows the congregation, He will also raise up and/or send the leaders needed to serve the people. This takes patience and sensitivity to how God is providing. The important thing is not to miss God when He sends the right persons our way.

A diverse leadership is critical to the continued multilevel growth of the congregation. People are looking for role models for themselves as well as their children. The face of leadership is critical in providing these. It shows a commitment to longevity and a depth of care for the entire congregation, not just a select few. At my previous church worshipers would see me as an African-American pastor and a Caucasian pastor such as Carl Johnson, our senior pastor, on the same platform. That sends a message about what we value at New City Gospel Fellowship.

Ken Houts, founder of Care Ministries International, puts it like this: “We need a process of change from maintenance structures to mission-driven ministry within the church body. We must equip our churches for growth and renewal, enabling you to realize God’s ordained destiny for your church and your life.” This is our goal for every one who comes through our doors. We want them to stay and grow in the process of renewal along with us. But this can only be done intentionally, by establishing new relationships. People won’t stay if they lack a relationship with the people and environment of your church.

There is a subtle difference between being “wanted” and being “accepted.” Churches that crave the label of “multicultural” want people of color to participate, of course. But only when we move to the stage of acceptance will people sense the liberty to grow and even make changes. This invites them into the identity-making process of church life.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the first things people of color notice when they visit a place is “who’s there.” People tend to notice color even though they may claim they don’t. In fact, to say to a person of another ethnicity, “Oh, I don’t see color,” is a kind of insult. A person’s color is part of their identity, and to disregard that aspect is to devalue them. Now, I’m sure that’s not what most people mean to convey. However, that is how it is very often construed. Color is important to all of us.

People of color are accustomed to integrating into white circles and environments here in North America, since whites are the dominating culture. People of color have learned to adapt to fit in, whether at work or in school. This is not, however, the proverbial melting pot. It is more of a tossed salad. We’re all in the same bowl but we’re not all melted into one consistency.

True blending can happen only by a major move of the Spirit of God, as was evidenced during the Azuza Street Revival. Today we are sometimes seeing the merger of a white congregation with a black or Latino congregation. The integrated leadership often attracts an integrated congregation.

In our own congregation here in suburban New York, we have experienced the shift from an all-white congregation to a rich mixture of ethnicities. During this transition we have seen whites drop out and head for a more homogeneous church when they felt there was “too much color” coming into our congregation. If you have a vision for a multicultural congregation, these kinds of things will happen.

But many others have come to embrace the vision and stayed to be part of it. This has been a joy for everyone, of whatever color.

Celebrate Diversity
When people come to church, they bring their culture with them, and most people are proud of their heritage. Just as a missionary brings Christ into a culture, the church has the same experience. In a multicultural environment, it is good to make a conscious effort to celebrate the various cultures in our congregation. Music is one way, obviously. But we should become more creative in our efforts to build a sense of ownership on multiple levels. Other multicultural events can be developed as well, such as ministry that reaches out to specific cultural needs. Many of these types of ministries will naturally come alive as people of color are liberated and take ownership within church life.

Diversity is a wonderful thing, and the kingdom of God is as diverse as it gets. Paul spoke about becoming “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). We must do the same thing. We must learn from each other and celebrate what God has created in each culture and ethnic group that He sends into our congregations.


Shellie Sampson, III, is Lead Pastor of Orange County Fellowship in Goshen, NY.

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