Unintentional Diversity

June 15th, 2011

When I lived in Texas, I occasionally passed by a mainline church that advertised on a banner outside, “Deliberately Diverse. Fully Inclusive.” I remember thinking, “If they have to put it on a banner, odds are the church isn’t really that diverse.” Sure, the sentiment was nice, but I suspect that the slogan was more wishful thinking than anything else. Sort of like a progressive version of “name it and claim it”. The Austin congregation I was part of for six years, on the other hand, really was diverse. We had racial diversity, theological diversity, economic diversity, you name it. And the funny thing is, we never really tried to be diverse. It just naturally happened. We didn’t have a banner made up telling everyone that we were diverse. Because when you’re really a welcoming, diverse congregation, word gets around.

Come to think of it, if we had advertised ourselves as “Deliberately Diverse” we would have been lying. We weren’t deliberate or intentional about it at all. We had our minds on basic kingdom stuff. The church simply focused on making disciples and meeting needs. We failed at times, and we often struggled numerically and financially, but we never struggled in the area of diversity. It was a gift from God. We had as many African-American and Hispanic people in the congregation as Caucasian. There were upper income, middle income, and modest income folks. Our church was fairly conservative theologically, but not everyone in the congregation was. And we had a large youth ministry for a church our size.

If we had advertised this diversity, we could have ended up killing it. That’s because diversity isn’t a primary objective of a healthy ministry-- it’s actually an indicator of a healthy ministry! An objective is a primary goal or purpose. An indicator is something that points to something else, or something that lets you know when another thing is happening. If your church is growing and it’s truly diverse, odds are the Holy Spirit is moving in such a way that people are overcoming existing barriers just to get a taste. Many times in Austin, for example, I would observe people going all the way across the city to visit a church because they had heard God was up to something there. And I don't think it's a coincidence that charismatic churches tend to be more diverse than other kinds of churches.

If you look around your church and notice that everyone looks the same, thinks the same, dresses the same, or sounds the same, the primary problem probably isn’t a lack of diversity. It just might be that you’ve domesticated God and become too comfortable with the way your church is. But when you get excited about the Gospel and you’re listening to the Holy Spirit, you find yourself wanting to reach everyone. The idea of a neighborhood church goes out the window. You start thinking multiple campuses in every part of the city, internet ministry, mission congregations, and church plants. And you’re not obsessing about the diversity within your church, you’re cultivating a heart for everyone outside the church. Deliberate diversity can be a sign of legalism or a misplaced focus. Unintentional diversity points to a bigger move of God.

Question: How can God use you to help establish ministries in your church that will create natural diversity?


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