Who’s worshipping with YOU?

Our world is changing and will continue to change at a rapid pace with regard to race. The 2010 US census was eye-opening to many as we began to realize how hard it is for people to check only one box to define their race or culture. In fact, nine million Americans self-identified as being part of more than one race, which increased by about 32 percent since 2000. Thirty-two percent—that’s the national average. But in some states, the multiracial population increased by 99 percent. Multiracial families as well as families from many different nations will visit your church. Will you make space for them? Will they be considered? Change can be devastating to you, or it can help develop you. Change can cripple you or invite you to walk joyfully down new paths that have never existed before.


I (Josh) live in the multicultural community of Clarkston, Georgia. It is estimated that 75 percent of the people who live in my town were born outside the United States. A number of years ago, Clarkston was targeted as a good place to resettle refugees for many reasons. One of these reasons is that there are lots of sidewalks in Clarkston. In fact, there are sidewalks almost everywhere in Clarkston. Sidewalks are important to us. Congolese women walk to the store and carry groceries back to their homes on their heads. Nepali grandparents walk their grandchildren to and from the local elementary school. Burmese women walk down the sidewalk and pick weeds and grasses to use for food and for medicinal purposes. Workers stand on the sidewalk waiting for public buses to take them to their jobs. There are sidewalks almost everywhere in Clarkston. But not everywhere. Clarkston hasn’t always been a multicultural community. And to be honest, there were more than enough sidewalks for the people who used to live here because they drove their cars wherever they wanted to go. But the community is different now. We walk everywhere. And sidewalks are not everywhere.

So, here’s what has happened. Over time, walking paths have developed on the side of the road. In places where there are no sidewalks, there are well-worn paths where sidewalks should be. No one asked for permission to develop these walking paths. No one went to the government officials and tried to cut through all the red tape to have sidewalks built. Someone just started walking. I wonder who it was. Maybe it was one of those grandparents who walked the same way to and from his or her grandchild’s school day after day. Soon, others began to follow. And then others. In time, clearly marked, usable paths developed that mark the way from one place to another.


Bridgeway Church, where I (Nikki) lead worship, has always been diverse in genres, musicians, and singers. But we have also been constantly changing. When talking about worship services, people who come to Bridgeway often say, “You never know what you’re going to get!” Our church today should not sound like it did ten years ago. There are new people here. People have come, and people have left. That should affect the sound. And the people who have been part of our church for the last ten years have been growing and developing, and God has been changing them, too. So even they should sound different than they did ten years ago.

The Bridgeway sound has morphed over the years and continues to do so. The Black people in church would say we sound more White than Black. And the White people would say we sound more Black than White. As a leader, I think that those kinds of comments are a good sign that we are right where we need to be.

In the last few years, we have morphed significantly by incorporating different languages into our worship services. Now other languages are a part of who we are as a community of worshippers. When
describing church to others, our members say, “We sing in different languages like Spanish, Yoruba, and Korean.” Our congregants sometimes invite people to our church by saying, “We sometimes sing in your language.” What a beautiful way to let people know we are considering them even before they step into the doors of our church.

When you are trying to diversify your worship services, be sure to bring other people into the process. When working with those who plan and lead your worship services, here are a couple of things not to say:

  1. “That’s not the right way to do this song.” Many people believe that there is one right key or style in which to sing a song. But what if your guitarist can’t play in B-flat? And what if you have a great African percussion player? Why shouldn’t he or she play on “Holy, Holy, Holy”?
  2. “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Who is “we” anyway? We are different than we were last week or last year. We might do the same song two weeks in a row, the first week as a techno song and the next week as a CCM, guitar-strumming song. Both musical styles speak to people in our congregation. There is a sense then that both are uniquely “us.”

And here are a couple of things to say:

  1. “Let’s just try it!” Our church culture, not just in the worship realm, embraces this approach. There is no harm in trying. And even if it doesn’t work, maybe it will lead us to something that does work. Or, maybe we will learn something. Or, maybe we will all have an opportunity to laugh at how ridiculous we just looked or sounded. There is freedom to fail.
  2. “Let’s create something new!” Notice the language of inclusion. The different people and cultures and musical backgrounds they bring affect the sound. We value creativity and experimentation. Our church culture (not just in the worship realm) is one of “just try it!” freedom to fail, not “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Let’s create something new. Let’s do our own thing. If someone has an idea, we fan the flame of the idea. We don’t perceive someone’s idea as a threat. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s okay!

We must embrace the truth that there is not one singular right way to “do” worship. Naturally, we think that the forms of worship and expression that work for us should work for everyone. But it’s important to remember that worship expression can oftentimes be as individual as people are in general. Be open to singing to God loudly and softly. Be open to offering prayers to Jesus one at a time or all at the same time in different languages. Be open to getting your groove on during worship as well as spending time on your knees. You may need to practice some of these things on your own when no one else is around to help yourself become comfortable with new expressions. Be open to fresh ways to honor culture, and be open to learning new ideas. Set the stage for a variety of worship expressions in the community you lead.

  • Verbally give permission. Say things like, “If you’d like to dance in the aisles in praise to God, feel free. If you’d like to sit quietly and meditate on God’s character, feel free.”
  • Help the people you lead see a variety of worship expressions in the Bible. Point them to psalms that talk about clapping hands and dancing and being still and bowing down.
  • Let people from different cultures teach you and your congregation about worship. You might be surprised what Bible verses they choose to teach from. They may share things you have never considered!

This article is adapted from Josh and Nikki’s new book Worship Together in Your Church as in Heaven (Abingdon Press, 2015).
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