Pastors’ Forum: What do you do and not do to accommodate ethnic diversity in your worship service planning?
Answers from Dave Furman, Kevin Hsu, Paul Martin, John Onwuchekwa, and Juan Sanchez.
I will never lose the gospel for the sake of unity in diversity, but I will preach the unadjusted gospel consistently.
I will never water down theology to a lowest common denominator in order to accommodate more people and cultures, but I will consistently preach rich doctrine as seen in Scripture.
I will never focus on things in our worship gathering in order to please any specific culture, but I will instead focus on things that all Christians do: We practice the sacraments (baptism and Lord’s Supper), pray, sing, read, and listen to the Word of God read and preached.
I will never do anything to unnecessarily alienate or elevate any one culture, but I will strive to have people from different ethnic backgrounds assume roles in our worship service, participate in ministry, and serve the church together as one body.
I will never plan and create vision for our worship services alone, but I will seek the input from a diverse group of leaders from within our church.
What We Do:
- Preach the Word of God that crosses all cultures and ethnic groups.
- Intentionally think through how to apply God’s Word to members of various ethnic groups.
- Intentionally include members in good standing from different ethnic groups in the service.
- Pray for God’s Word to deeply penetrate every ethnic group in our diverse Bay Area, and to the nations.
- Ask people to bring their ethnic dishes to our church potlucks.
What We Don’t Do:
- Under-value ethnic diversity by thinking the gospel eliminates all differences. In re-making us into one new race in Jesus Christ, the Gospel brings unity amidst diversity, not uniformity.
- Over-value ethnic diversity by intentionally dividing people into different classes, small groups, or ministries based on ethnicity
I pastor in what the United Nations considers to be the most culturally diverse city in the world. Nearly 52 percent of the millions who live in Toronto were born outside of Canada. Thankfully, that diversity is represented in our church.
Here are our top five ways we try to promote diversity in our services:
5. Ask qualified members of different backgrounds to read, pray, and serve in our services.
4. Sing songs we can sing. Avoid trying to be what we are not as a congregation.
3. Celebrate and enjoy diversity, especially in the preaching. Apply and illustrate cross-culturally.
2. Stay Word-focused. The Bible crosses all cultural boundaries, is immediately relevant to everyone, and its faithful application guards against cultural snobbery.
1. Be a normal church. Don’t specialize on cultural diversity or uniformity. The number one thing to avoid is elevating any culture over authentic gospel-culture.
What We Do:
We look carefully at songs, language, or references that could estrange a particular demographic. When we find these things, we don’t necessarily take them out, we just want to be mindful of them so that we can explain them and invite other people to participate. That may look like us changing certain lyrics in songs, musical arrangements, and so on.
Our musical selection is the place where this is the most visible. We try to sing a healthy mix of hymns, contemporary, and gospel, although we never have as much of balance as we’d like.
We encourage people to engage with others who don’t look like them. The battle for ethnic diversity is won and lost in the hallways before and after church.
We try to make what goes on up front reflect the makeup of the congregation. Whether you call them a service leader or emcee or host, we try to make sure this group is diverse.
In our preaching, conversations, and worship leading, we don’t assume that everyone in the room has the same family structure. We’re mindful of single moms and kids that don’t know their mothers or fathers or have been raised by grandparents.
What We Don’t Do:
We don’t track measure diversity with any official metrics—at least not anymore. We don’t make it the North Star and become overly consumed with it.
At the end of the day, we can do all of the right things and not be a very diverse church. If we’re faithful and sensitive with what we do and say, then we trust that the results are up to God and him alone.
At High Pointe Baptist Church we have learned that the miracle of the gospel is not mere ethnic diversity but harmony among the diversity. So, perhaps it is better to point out what we don’t do first, followed in each case by what we do:
We don’t focus on a particular ethnicity/demographic in our music. Instead, we seek to select music that is gospel-centered and congregationally singable.
We don’t plan ethnic diversity on the platform each service. Instead, we encourage everyone to serve in various capacities and diversity is regularly witnessed.
We don’t emphasize Americanism in our services and avoid “patriotic” emphases. Instead, we speak about being world Christians who are strangers and aliens on this earth. We also display flags of different countries in our auditorium and outside our building.
We don’t promote men as elders on the basis of ethnicity. Instead, we train all men; ask the Lord to raise up qualified men to serve as elders; and we have gratefully seen God raise up a diverse elder board.