The Joyful Pursuit of Multi-ethnic Churches

Forming multi-ethnic churches seems to be appealing at first, but unless believers grasp the profound joy of pursuing diversity, the challenges of this type of ministry will quickly deflate them.

Churches that desire a more multi-ethnic membership desire a good thing, but it’s not easy. Some churches are located in areas with virtually no ethnic diversity. Other churches across the spectrum still have leadership or laity who actively fight against any mixing ethnicities in their congregation. Still more churches may have the desire but lack the resources to effectively pursue multi-ethnicity.

While these problems are real, the right motivation can help churches persist in the call to multi-ethnicity. But people often have the wrong motivations. Guilt can be a motivation—this is especially true for people in the racial majority. The argument goes: “Whites have marginalized and oppressed blacks for so long, churches need to make it right by ‘reaching out’ to different races and ethnicities.” While guilt has its place, this emotion will hardly give churches the determination they need to persevere through the difficulties of becoming multi-ethnic.

Another common motivation is fear. Christians fear lots of things about being in a mono-ethnic church. We fear that as neighborhood demographics change we will lose people. We fear that we will become irrelevant in the community. We fear being racist, or classist, or elitist. Fear, too, has its place. But that won’t keep churches moving toward a multi-ethnic vision.

We need to be reminded of the joy of diversity. We need to keep that joy before us so it can motivate us for the marathon that is multi-ethnicity ministry. Here are six joys of pursuing a multi-ethnic make-up in churches.

1. You become more racially, ethnically, and culturally savvy.

In a healthy multi-ethnic church it becomes acceptable to talk about differences in race, ethnicity, and culture. Continual interactions with people different from you makes you into a person who is more sensitive and aware of culture and ethnicity. You make fewer missteps and feel less awkward when engaging people across racial and cultural gaps.

2. Your church becomes a safe haven for lots of different people.

Regardless of one’s ethnicity, everyone wants to worship in a place that feels “safe.” As an African American who longs for biblical teaching and preaching I do not feel at home in church that has erroneous theology but is more culturally familiar. Nor do I feel comfortable in a church with sound theology but is culturally distant. A multi-ethnic church becomes a place where I can get both sound doctrine and an accessible cultural experience. What is true along racial lines is also true along economic, linguistic, and other lines. Multi-ethnic churches communicate that it’s all right to be different, and then lots of different people start coming.

3. You begin to understand what is primary and what is preference.

In a multi-ethnic church you have to constantly work to address the diverse needs of several ethnic groups. So you start having lots of conversations about what elements of worship are primary and which ones are preference. Churches that do this well begin to hone in on the essential truths of the gospel and communicate them more clearly while at the same time demonstrating flexibility and wisdom regarding culturally conditioned opinions about worship.

4. You want to invite people to church.

How many times have you hesitated to invite a person to church out of concern that the person wouldn’t “fit in”? In many churches there is an unspoken expectation that people will wear a certain type of clothes, speak a certain way, know certain songs, have a certain background, and the like. Multi-ethnic churches make it easier for different people—folks with purple hair and earrings in their eyebrows, folks who can’t afford a suit and tie, folks who have never been to church and don’t know how to pray, folks of a different color—to feel at home. This, in turn, makes you bolder and more confident to invite people to church.

5. Your church becomes an authentic witness in your community.

Ethnically diverse churches authentically witness the gospel’s power to reconcile people to God and each other. In a society shredded by sectarian interests—political, ideological, racial, you name it—churches that demonstrate unity in diversity attract attention. Multi-ethnic churches demonstrate that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

6. You get a glimpse of God’s kingdom come.

Revelation 7:9 gives a concise depiction of the heavenly kingdom: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Scripture teaches that an essential aspect of the heavenly congregation is racial and ethnic diversity—Christ is calling people from all nations to himself. Multi-ethnic churches excite God’s people because they truly reflect God’s people.

The Joy of Unity in Diversity

We delight in multi-ethnic churches because they reflect the essential nature of God himself. God reveals himself in the three persons of the godhead–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Yet these three are one. The Trinity gloriously displays the unity and diversity of God. And God has so ordered the congregation of his people to reflect his three-in-oneness.

Although imperfect and incomplete, we can truly enjoy this reflection in our churches. The joy we feel in a multi-ethnic gathering of worshipers is the joy of feeling God’s pleasure as we glorify him in his triune being. May God’s church joyfully pursue diversity through our unified faith in Christ.

  • T.Newbell

    Thanks for this, Jemar. I really appreciated point five. There’s something beautiful about seeing multi-ethnic communities…I believe it reflects God’s heart. I join you in prayer, “May God’s church joyfully pursue diversity through our unified faith in Christ,” Amen!

  • Branden Henry

    Jemar, thanks for pointing out that the pursuit of diversity is rooted in far more than fear or ‘white-guilt’, as is so often misinterpreted. The simple joys and excitements of multi-ethnic worship often feel to me like a kid in a candy store, with so many new sweets to learn of and enjoy. As you show in your fourth point, who wouldn’t want to invite their friends to a newly found treasure trove of candies?

  • Chris Lemmon

    Great article. I was curious if you know about the Reconciliation and Justice Conference in St. Louis January 29-30. I think there will be a lot of discussion around multiethnic ministry and reconciliation challenges and its a gathering of PCA churches. Anyways, I enjoyed your article, great observations.

  • Jim Moon Jr

    Blessings to you and your family as you study at RTS. And may your tribe increase.

    Insightful article. I’m going to post it for our church. We’ve been on this multi-cultural journey for several years and it is hard but so good. The costs are high but worth it.

    Thanks to Pablo M for finding this and sharing it with me on FB.


  • Alex Guggenheim

    I am certain you are earnest and believe you are proposing something Biblical and wise. But Race-Based Special Interest Theology and practice is one of the most egregious doctrinal proposals of our modern church.

    One will find no place in the Bible and specifically any promotion in the New Testament that we are to attempt to formulate a local body of believers based on anthropological properties, ethnic, racial or gender and so on. In fact, the Scriptures make it quite clear that such properties, in fact, disappear with respect to the people of God and their spiritual nature, when they are brought into the body of Christ. Yes, they anthropological properties themselves are retained with respect to social constructs, but not in the spiritual construct of the body of Christ and its spiritual exercises.

    It is a form of anthropological narcissism to hoist upon God’s protocols or his prescribed system and means of ecclesiastical regulation, that of human philosophy and subsequent approval. God makes no such demand other than a local assembly be made up of born-again believers and that no one is prohibited from joining that assembly based on anthropological properties (rich, poor, Jew, Greek, etc).

    In fact, to pursue people based on anthropological properties is to disregard the nature of the body of Christ’s construct and its spiritual DNA. The claim that multi-ethnic churches prove or demonstrate Christ reconciles people to one another is theologically misplaced. Christ came that we be reconciled to God. Christ did not come to insure social reconciliation.

    Our fellowship between one another (believers) is not socially based, it is spiritually based and centers around Christ. In fact, people can be quite socially incompatible but spiritually compatible. Now it is true that the more we focus on Christ the more we will be drawn closer to each other but that is not due to a personal or social reconciliation, rather due to our shared proximity to Christ.

    This humanism of multi-ethnicism being some kind of necessary virtue by which to judge the church is quite injurious to the clarity of Scriptures which requires no such pursuit. It only requires that we not prohibit membership based on anthropological properties but it never requires or even intimates that the church must be multi-ethnic. It becomes, then, a place of humanistic Race-Based consideration which is not Biblical at all.

    Finally, this recently popular use of Rev 7:9 by those who are teaching the doctrine of necessary anthropological diversity (there is diversity, btw, in the body of Christ, however it is based on spiritual gifts, i.e. spiritual properties, not human or anthropological properties such as race/ethnicity and this is the diversity to the body which Christ brings and we aren’t free to change that program or add to it with human diversity protocols). Rev 7:9 describes a future event using language of the current. There will be no nations in heaven, there will be but one nation. But to make the point that heaven will not be populated only by one group or nation it uses the language of an earthly anthropological economy. It is to take the passage out of context and try and force it into ecclesiastical protocols. Look at the context, those in the white robes are those who went through the “great tribulation”.

    The context, of most importance, isn’t even the context of the church. Is there a principle one can observe? Yes, that principle is that God saves all people in Christ and not just Jews because right before the passage it talks about the tribes of Israel.

    Not only is it taken out of context but there is no such orthodox hermeneutic which will allow it to have the force it is trying to have and be used in the context and manner suggested here and by other worshipers of diversity.

    Do I believe you are sincere? Sure. But God defines the body of Christ spiritually and we are to pursue men, not by race, ethnicity or gender but by lost and found, by saved and unsaved. Christ builds his church and his diversity is found in spiritual gifting, not race, ethnicity or gender.

    Some churches will demographically have mixes and some may not. The Bible condemns nor commends either. In fact, it clearly teaches us to not consider such matters with respect to the body of Christ and to focus on our spiritual identity in Christ.

    P.S. There is a form of racial objectifying that goes with the diversity proposal, a kind of white, black and brown trophyism. It makes men and women objects, not fellow heirs. Heads of colors to be counted in order for others to congratulate themselves on “their work” of diversifying.

    • Chris Lemmon

      Jemar, I think you are right. The doctrine of the ‘Spirituality of the church’ has a lot of problems. It was one of the main arguments used by opponents to the Civil Rights movement, who were Christians. But I think that pastors and theologians have to start looking at how the NT talks about reconciliation to support the case for multiethnic ministry in the church. If the discussion is merely left at the level of ‘diversity’ being a good thing, that does not deal in enough depth with the theology needed to hold people of very different cultures and ethnicities together. I fully support what you are saying, but it seems that people just resist it unless we offer deeper, stronger, wider, more exegetically amplified discussion from the Bible of what you are talking about. Eph 2, Colossians 3, 1 Cor 12, a number of places discuss reconciliation and how there is not longer Jew or Greek, the cultural, racial, ethnic segregation removed in context of life of the church. I am in the PCA and I am with you on this. For all the good reasons you mentioned this is a direction more churches need to move. Keep up the good work.

      • Alex Guggenheim

        What is most ironic about your response which contains some of the elements of the author’s postulate is that while the passages rightly cite that in the body of Christ we do not view one another anthropologically, Jew/Greek etc., it is this very thing, the labor of race/ethnicity counting the author forces upon the church in his ecclesiastical formula.

        But to the passages you cited but provided no exegesis for the claim they are either about or include social reconciliation I say sound hermeneutics has repeated defined these passages categorically as our being reconciled to Christ thus one another spiritually and attempts no commentary on social compatibility between racial or ethnic groups. It is not a social reformation but an all together new divine institution which is spiritual in its construct, identity and operation.

        • T.Newbell

          Hi Alex:

          I am very interested in your perspective. I wonder though if you discount the sinful nature of man? In other words, could it be that this message is necessary not because he (we–I agree with his article) is trying to argue for a church that pursues others because of ethnicity but rather that the gospel frees us TO pursue others different than ourselves. Sin has tainted the vision that you have. We can tend to be partial. Do you think our sin nature can tend towards partiality? Even if we are well meaning, Bible loving, believers…What do you think? Thanks!

          • Alex Guggenheim

            First I would state that any message to the church must be based in sound Bible interpretation and this message , I do not believe, meets that. But it is not to say the church has not been given a message on race and ethnicity, it has, and I believe it is the one I have already stated. But what about our sinfulness? It must be echoed and practiced by an assembly or other church leaders that in Christ these anthropological properties are not the basis for spiritual unity and fellowship.

            Do we tend to socialize thus inevitably share the gospel more often with those in our social periphery? Yes, but the Bible not only does not treat this as sinful but in the great commission it assumes it “as you go, making disciple and Baptizing…” Secondly, should we make a conscious effort to share the gospel with those who are not like us? Yes, they are called the lost and the us we should have in mind when doing the work of the church, the spiritual exercise of sharing the gospel, is us-those that are saved.

            • T.Newbell


              Let me state just for the sake of knowing, I am a black woman. I also want to say that I agree with you in regards to evangelism and defining people as in-Christ or not. I think that’s important. And I agree that unity should not be defined by race. But, where I think we may differ is that I believe the message is needed because all too often “race” and ethnicity continues to be a dividing wall. I really appreciate your perspective. I just don’t think we are there yet. I am also convinced that the Bible does address diversity. I’m so thankful you are here sharing.

            • Alex Guggenheim

              T. Newbell,

              Racial conflicts, petty or significant, are certainly always present with us in this world. Even Christians, particularly when they do the thing proposed here, to count race or to give it value in spiritual expression, will “take sides”. That should not happen for believers but it does but not because the remedy of all of us finding our spiritual and ecclesiastical identity does not work as it should but it occurs when we do not do this in the body of Christ that such “taking sides” arise.

              But let me say something here for you and everyone with whom I have been discussing. The phenomenon of our unity in Christ regardless of race/ethnicity, can only happen as it does in its unique way and is only intended to happen as it does in its unique way within the spiritual construct of the body of Christ and with its protocols.

              Outside of the body of Christ such as within your family, though you may be a Christian family, it is a different divine institution based on an anthropological construct where your human properties are quite relevant and should be. It is your human DNA or civil law (such as adoption or marriage) upon which a family is built and identifies itself. So even a society or nation can be racially homogenous without it being a bad thing, necessarily. That is to say nations tend to rise from families or groups of families that are closely related or alike. These are valid sources of social identification and function, even for Christians.

              It is only in the body of Christ these things disappear as they do or I should say are rendered impotent. But when you go to your home the only people allowed in without knocking are whom? Your human family of course. So even our unity in Christ does not necessarily intend to force a change in social structures and protocols.

              Thus, race will stay an issue. Humanly speaking if all the world were saved and drawing near to the Lord, well what a grand place it would be. But the world is by majority not Christian. Hence, it not only will legitimately use its racial identity, it will illegitimately use it as an identifier for a group or groups toward whom they wish to target their hatred and explanation for all things wrong in life.

              And at times it might even be true that collectively one racial group or another can be described as acting in a way that is not in the interest of another group or maybe even to the injury or another group. Those social problems will, indeed, stay with us until our King reigns in eternity. I do not believe they will go away.

              But to some degree, however, our human identity is one that God has given us as social creatures. There is nothing wrong with seeking the preservation and promotion of our unique human properties in their right setting but in the church, I believe, those properties are to be impotent other than for anecdotal functions.

              Thanks again.

              P.S. I do have a series at my blog, An Examination of Protestant/Evangelical Race Based-Special Interest Theology, if you are ever interested and have some time to kill.

              P.S.S. I like to watch Charles Stanley and have followed him since the early 1980’s. His church is racially diverse but he will tell you he never pursued such a thing. The most he ever did was insure just what the Bible required, that anthropological properties were not a basis for consideration, one way or the other. He simply taught the word of God and in the community in which the church was the demographic changed somewhat along with simply attracting believers of every kind of human race and ethnicity who did just what Stanley did, did not consider those properties as relevant to spiritual identification and exercise.

    • Branden Henry

      Alex, I’d like to comment on this specific line of your reply: “But God defines the body of Christ spiritually and we are to pursue men, not by race, ethnicity or gender but by lost and found, by saved and unsaved.”
      It seems to me that what is now the ‘multi-ethnic’ church is actually the working out of exactly what you say we should be pursuing. To have a body of believers which pursues only men of certain ethnicity in their pursuit after the saved and unsaved (i.e. the white or black church down the street), all while keeping distant from those of different ethnicity, seems to be more in line with establishing a body based on these characteristics before-mentioned. It seems that many of these ‘multi-ethnic’ churches are working hard to not “formulate a local body of believers based on anthropological properties, ethnic, racial or gender and so on”, but instead to pursue a body whose identity is in Christ, rather than as the ‘white, black, multi-ethnic, or mixed’ church.

      • Alex Guggenheim


        They should not be working hard to or not to formulate any demographic. The deliberation of the church is about the Gospel to the list and discipleship to believers. Counting racial and ethnic heads is precisely what the church should not be doing.

        Thus humanistic diversity standard both ignores Christ’ s design of diversity which is based in spiritual gifting and not human properties and maybe worse introduces a sinful yoke around the necks of many assemblies by demanding they meet a diversity criterion or even pursue it when such a command is not explicit or implicit in the Bible. And it sets up a false system of self-congratulatory for the inventors of this standard of alleged ecclesiastical premiums and a false judgment on healthy churches who do not meet this threshold.

        • T.Newbell


          I pray no one would place a demand on a church like this. There are churches in rural areas, for example, that may never be diverse (in ethnicity). But for those starting new churches or for churches that do have a desire for a multi-ethnic community it isn’t harmful to cast a vision for it. I don’t think anyone would demand diversity. I do think that diversity reflects the last day–and how beautiful it is to reflect that now. I also think it’s a good witness to a world that loves to division. What do you think?

          • Alex Guggenheim

            I think that a healthy church is one, regardless of its demographic, is demonstrating the transforming power of God. Now if there are multiple kinds of races and ethnicity what should be demonstrated is their unity in Christ and not necessarily their social compatibility which is what the world tends to incorrectly judge a church upon.

            • T.Newbell

              Thanks for your thoughts. I agree. Unity in Christ first. Interesting. I think we can agree then that a multi-ethnic congregation could be a sign to the world that God has broken the barriers that divide the world through Christ’s redeeming blood. We are not only united in Christ because we are in-Christ, we are now counted as brothers and sisters in-Christ. It’s a new family–something the world doesn’t have. We could agree that unity in Christ in a multi-ethnic context could display the last day–reflected today.

  • Pingback: The Joyful Pursuit of Multi-ethnic Churches « One Gospel()

  • Eresh M Tchaku

    I needed this! God bless you so much brother for such a powerful lesson!

  • Mitchell Hammonds

    Well stated Alex! The Church is a culture of its own created by God and we are immersed into it regardless of race or culture. To implement anything to bring in other cultures is a deviation from what the mission of the church should be – Word and Sacrament. Further, it also divides the body of Christ.

  • David Lee

    Jemar, thanks for posting this. Mark DeYmaz’s book, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church, offers some Biblical framework within which to consider these pursuits.

    For myself, and countering Alex’s assertions and following Chris’, I find Ephesians 2:11-22 presents a rather clear case that racial reconciliation is a result of Christ’s work on the cross. It is not the only result of this work (reconciliation with God being primary in the first half of the chapter), but it is an area which we have largely neglected, and passively and actively resisted, and it is time for us to address it, with grace and…joy!

    • Mitchell Hammonds

      It is irrelevant what your race is… it is imperative, however, that everyone, regardless of their race, understand the their ultimate problem – How will you stand before a holy God in “That day?” This is the primary mission of the Church – to proclaim the Good News that all is accomplished – done. Go sit in Church and listen to this proclamation from a preacher – if you can find one faithful to this message. The way to get over racial differences in the Church is through understanding the predicament we all are in – again race becomes irrelevant. No one is innocent of racism – it amounts to hate in the end. It is forgiven as any other infraction of God’s Law.

    • Alex Guggenheim


      What is present in Christ is not anthropological reconciliation but our reconciliation to God in Christ thus our spiritual unity based on our spiritual DNA. The text has nothing to do with social or anthropological reconciliation. What it presents is an absolutely different and new divine construct, one removed from anthropological causes, considerations or motivations which is the spiritual construct of the body based in and resolving around our spiritual reconciliation in Christ. Thus our fellowship with one another is based our new spiritual property which is precisely what is being emphasized in all of Ephesians, “in Christ”.

  • Gilbert Banks

    I so appreciate this article “The Joyful Pursuit of Multi-ethnic Churches” … that is where my heart and prayer for the Body of Christ is.

  • Jonathan Song

    My concern about the talk about multi-ethnic= more biblical is the reality that all multi ethnic churches still are working in the ethnocentric environments of their given context. Multi-Ethnic churches are not really multi-ethnic, they are American churches with racial diversity but they operate underneath an American framework. I do believe that there is a need for racially specific churches because they are able to adress Gospel concerns that cannot be addressed in an environment of great diversity, but I am open to correction on this issue. Thoughts?

  • Joshua Waulk

    I blogged about our church’s journey in a multi-ethnic/racial impoverished neighborhood here:

  • Pingback: Worth a Look 11.15.12 – Trevin Wax()

  • Trey Harris

    Could Jemar be overly concerned or hyper-sensitive to race?


    Is racism (hatred) a serious sin problem in the lives of a broken humanity?


    It seems to me that race, or how we think about our relationship to people of a different nationality, is something that we need our mind changed about too. Reading some of the push back that my man Jemar is receiving seems to be a bit naive at best. If you’re of the mindset that someone trusts Jesus for their salvation and every issue is immediately resolved, I would say you’re sadly mistaken. The apostles followed our Lord and Leader for 3 years and some change and still didn’t have it all together on how they ought to be thinking about the whole of life in light of Jesus’ truth.

    I can’t roll with statements of “race is irrelevant.” At least not being used in the manner that some seem to be attempting to state such. It [the issue of race] just doesn’t go away immediately upon conversion for all (maybe none, I don’t know). Jesus’ command to repent and follow Him, is a continuous “rest of your life repenting/following Me” statement/command. And quite frankly, we need our heart and mind changed on a whole lot of stuff! And until one looks at a certain sin issue through the lens of Jesus, it is a sin yet to be turned from. And that particular sin may or may not be realized as something needing God’s changing at the onset of realizing that you stand in need of salvation.

    • Alex Guggenheim

      I do agree that when one is saved things don’t just “go away”. Simon the Sorcerer is the best example of this. He got saved but what was his early instinct as a new believer? It was an old way of thinking, that he could buy the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

      Old ways do not simply disappear, true. So if one has invested heavily in their racial identity before being saved to the point that they have an instinctive antagonism toward other groups, it is true that they will have to be transformed and it will take time, maybe a life time.

      However, none of this speaks to the protocol for the church, herself. That is, in the church, the body of Christ, the protocol still remains that racial properties or any anthropological property is not a consideration with regard to its spiritual identity or spiritual exercise.

      This does not mean in all other walks of life your anthropological properties such as race, gender or ethnicity must or should become impotent. Not at all. If anything they are the basis for the divine institution of the self, marriage and family. In these contexts and constructs they are to be given their full social expression but only in their correct context.

  • Pingback: A Diverse Unity « Pastor's Blog()

  • Pingback: This Week in Jesus - Top 6 Links - The David Kent .com()

  • Armando Aguilar

    Great thoughts Mr. Tisby. Had my wife and I thinking and discussing for some time tonight.

    I’ve always found it interesting when a church does not look like, ethnically, the surrounding neighborhood. I used to live a Long Beach, CA – a very diverse city – and was a part of a church that was primarily white in a black/latino/white neighborhood. In my experience, it is extremely difficult to break in to becoming a multi-ethnic church when it was never in the DNA structure of the church in the beginning. Almost seems like new church plants with a leadership desiring this would be a great thing. Look me up if you decide to plant a church.

  • Pingback: #RacialRec: Bloodlines ~ How can We Pursue Racial Reconciliation? «()