When nearly every sporting event, shopping mall, and entertainment center in the U.S. is racially diverse and the church is not we have a problem. The church is still living in a pre-Civil Rights world of segregation. Only 7.5% of churches are considered racially diverse, meaning no single racial group makes up more than 80% of the congregation.
“The biggest problem is that we don’t see that as a problem,” said Chris Rice, coauthor of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel.
Enter the much-anticipated new book by Scott Williams, Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week. I first heard about Williams in 2009 when he uttered the words “church diversity sucks” during the Nines Conference. I couldn’t help but smile. Great topic, great title (though I did discourage him from using that as the title of his book).
Williams confronts the elephant of diversity in the room of the church with humor, passion and grace. He includes examples that show us how it’s done (and not done). He shows us how the business world is light years ahead (something he illustrates for us in a guest post) and gives us examples of churches that are doing it right and how worship leaders are addressing diversity.
Diversity as Welcome Mat
For communicators it really hits home when Williams talks about how diversity acts as a welcome sign to visitors. People coming to church to have enough to feel uncomfortable about, we don’t need to make it worse by making them feel alone due to a lack of diversity. Seeing someone who looks like you instantly communicates that you belong. If you don’t understand that I’d guess you’re in the racial majority at your church and have little experience being on the other side. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference.
I saw it in my 2-year-old son when we went camping with a group from church and he was mesmerized by two visiting boys who looked like him. Milo kept saying, “Our hair is same!” and flashing that dimpled smile. I hadn’t put much thought into it, but Milo clearly noticed that most people in our predominantly white church don’t have hair like his tight, springy African curls.
Martin Luther King Jr. on Church Diversity
The most poignant section of the book is an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr. that rewrites Paul’s letter to the Romans as if it were written to Americans in the 1950s. Again, you’d think we’ve come along way in 50 years, but the sad reality is that while the rest of society is confronting these issues and moving on the church is stubbornly refusing.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from Williams’ book is that church diversity has to be an intentional effort. First you have to recognize that it’s a problem and then you have to decide to take direct action to correct it. Thankfully Williams has a lot of good advice.
Grab a copy of Williams’ book and begin tackling the question of diversity in your church. An easy way to start is to begin acknowledging the issue. Church Diversity Week in January is a good first step.
In the end church diversity moves us closer to God’s ideal and the kind of diversity we’ll see in heaven when every tribe and nation will come together before the throne of God. It’d be nice if we had a little practice before then.