Diversity has grown from a Civil Rights era ideal to a business goal. Deborah Dagit, the vice-president and chief diversity officer at pharmaceutical giant Merck, puts it this way:
“Our work force and our marketplace expect us to be not just culturally aware but culturally competent in how we engage both our employees and our customers. A failure to embrace diversity is a signal to your talent and your consumer that you are out of touch with the current realities of doing business.”
But where is the church? A 2007 study quoted in Time magazine shows that only 7.5% of churches are racially diverse. That study defined diversity as no single racial group making up more than 80% of the congregation. While the business world has caught on, the church still remains 93% segregated, nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. declared Sunday the most segregated day of the week.
When I was writing my book Church Diversity, I decided to do some research on corporate diversity. The goal was to learn from the diversity practices of successful businesses and draw parallels for the church. The more I read about the diversity strategies of corporations like Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Coca Cola, AT&T, Marriott, Merck and others, the more I realized that these diversity strategies are marketing and growth strategies. These strategies are not simply for corporate America; they must be strategies for the local church.
Hotel conglomerate Marriott puts a premium on diversity. Their global diversity officer, Jimmie Paschall, put it like this:
“Our business is all about people. That’s why we view our ‘spirit to serve’ culture of more than 80 years as a source of strength that our competitors can’t easily replicate. We strive to create an inclusive environment where the talents and unique ideas of 300,000 employees at our managed and franchised properties worldwide can flourish. When our employees feel respected and valued, we know that they’ll make our guests, suppliers, owners, and franchisees feel the same way, too. This is more than a philosophy—it’s a strategy that works.”
If a successful organization with over 300,000 employees around the globe can embrace and understand the importance of diversity, shouldn’t the local church? To put this in perspective, the largest church in the United States has less than 50,000 people who attend on a weekly basis. Marriott has over 300,000 employees. I believe Paschall hits the nail on the head when he talks about “the spirit to serve” culture that can’t be replicated by competitors. Shouldn’t we be able to say the same of the church? This is more than political correctness or corporate drivel. It’s a strategy that will prove to change the heart and face of the church.
Once we tackle the why question of diversity, the next question becomes how. Again, let’s take a look at one of these 10 corporations that I feature in the book. Marriott is the textbook definition of a great company devoted to diversity.
It starts at the top with Chairman and CEO J.W. Marriott Jr. He’s a visible force for diversity both in the company and in the community. He signs off personally on executive compensation tied to diversity, which accounts for 13 percent of the bonuses of his six direct reports. He also chairs the company’s internal diversity council, which meets quarterly. This degree of involvement is a must for the senior leadership in the church.
Next comes the diversity of staff that you will find in any Marriott Hotel—60.4% minority work force in the U.S. This diverse employee group doesn’t only include the desk clerk and cleaning crews, but there are diverse groups of high-level executive leaders within the Marriott organization as well.
A diverse staff alone isn’t enough. It needs to be an intentional conversation. To make sure all its employees are culturally competent when dealing with customers from all backgrounds, Marriott has mandatory diversity training offered every month.
Marriott also ties some of their executive bonus pay to diversity benchmarks. This could be a valuable tool for churches to encourage leaders to think about diversity, begin discussions about diversity and begin to make the changes necessary to market to a broader people group. You reward what you value!
Marriott’s continued improvement in the face of tough economic times is proof that their diversity policies aren’t just cultural ideals, they’re good business.
Church diversity isn’t just a new strategy for the church or the right thing to do. It’s about challenging ourselves to move beyond “what is” to “what will be.” Diversity in the church will allow us to catch a glimpse of heaven on earth.