This is the fourth 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? 

by Shellie Sampson, III

Multicultural ministry is fast becoming the new focus of Christian church development. It is not without its challenges, however. As Psalm 127:1 says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” God is the one who develops diversity in churches, and only as we follow His leading does construction begin.

So what really is a multicultural ministry? The answer depends on who you ask. Some people think they can call a church “multicultural” if there’s a token ethnic minority–one or two African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians–even though the prevailing culture remains homogeneous. Building a diverse ministry requires love and appreciation for ethnic cultures different from your own. It means representation and utilization of diversity in leadership and ministry programs all up and down the line.

Is multicultural ministry for everyone? Not necessarily. Some feel called to ethnic-specific churches, so they can address specific needs that directly relate to issues that people of color face-language barriers, for example, or other community issues.

But in most cases, our ministries need to be diverse. Why? Because God is diverse and so is His creation, which includes people. If your town or city is diverse, your church should be also. We need diversity on many levels because of the complexity of human society. As churches grow and expect people to take ownership within the congregation, we leaders must present ourselves in a manner that enables the congregation to see themselves in the leadership as well as in the ministry itself.

Three Hindrances
Here are some of the hindrances to building a multicultural church:

  • Lack of acceptance by the congregation–a subtle “coolness”
  • Outright prejudice
  • Lack of diversity in leadership

Cultural insensitivities drive people toward the door as fast as they come in. Stereotypical imagery is a problem; so are the distant looks that say go away instead of a welcoming smile with words of affirmation. If there is a general impression that people other than “us” are not accepted here, people will not stay. When individuals come in, either whites into a black church or blacks into a white church, they must be greeted not only by the official greeters but by the congregation at large.

Prejudice is hard to hide. People who are biased have an air about them that people of color can almost always discern. Being victims for so long, a keen level of intuitiveness has been developed over the years. Negative bias is more obvious than many people tend to think.

Even outside the sanctuary or the fellowship hall, neighbors in the community become keenly aware of a church’s identity and personality. They know our faces and who we are. They then make assumptions about acceptance or rejection.

One of the unavoidable issues is the face of leadership. Visitors look not only at the faces in the congregation but also the faces on the platform. The face of the senior pastor generally represents the majority of the faces in the congregation. Whites gravitate to whites, blacks to blacks, Latinos to Latinos. Even within the most integrated congregations, this is still the trend.

Three Ways to Get Started
How can we reach those who look different than we do? How can we develop our ministries into a culturally diverse environment? Here are three ways to get started:

The first is the Home Missions approach, where we establish an outreach to a local ethnic group. We identify the people and their needs in order to demonstrate the love of God in their everyday lives. This begins to build bridges, showing the community that the church really does care.

The second is Developing Peer-Level Relationships. We get to know the other pastors in the community, developing relationships that grow into friendships. This may be harder than it sounds due to cultural differences, but it is well worth the effort to make a friend. Find a way in, show that you are genuine, that you desire to win your entire community to Christ, and that you are not just operating from selfish motives. Find a personal need and meet it. Be real and transparent in order to build cross-community trust.

The third is Seeking Common Ground and Common Interests. Break down barriers and work together to better win the community, collaborating to reach the masses. Perhaps start with a local food pantry or clothing giveaway. Organize family fun events as an outreach. Try holding a car repair day in the church parking lot for single moms, or organize a fix-up/clean-up day with teams that go from house to house doing basic repairs. These things show that it’s about meeting needs, not “stealing” people from another congregation.


What do you think? Do you see any other things that can block us from being multicultural churches or other steps we can take to become multicultural churches?  Share your thoughts in the comments.


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

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