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Color, Culture, and Church

Over the past few years there has been a lot said about the multicultural and/or multiethnic church. I will talk to another pastor or leader and the question will arise, “Are you a multicultural church?” This question always gives me pause because depending on how one uses the term will determine how see they answer. Since this has become a pop term in church circles many determine your success and effectiveness based on it.

The reason people care about color and culture in church is because in the American church we have failed horribly. When you look at church history in this country racism is more than present. Christians used race to enslave blacks for hundreds of years. It’s been a regularly discussed topic that Sunday morning at 11 a.m. is the most segregated hour of our entire week. So, yes it’s an important issue that the church should address.

The issue of race and culture is a multifaceted problem. I have found that when many people say they have a multicultural church that means that they have a half white, half black church. That is fine if you have a community that is 50/50 between those to two races. If there are Asians or Latinos in your community then they should be present too. We have a tendency to see things as black and white when there are more ways to celebrate the diversity of people groups in our neighborhoods.

It’s important to identify that we can have many colors in a church, and all of them have the same culture. Culture goes beyond skin complexion. There are other African Americans that have little to no cultural connection to me (Not that they have to for us to worship together). We share a color not a culture. There are whites that grew up in an urban setting, in a similar environment I as I did, who share my culture. An Asian Pastor friend of mine told me that many Asians grow up essentially white. The two issues are not necessarily synonymous.

I have found that some churches are proud of the numbers of varying colors in their congregations, but they have no consideration of culture. They in essence are saying, we want your color, but we don’t value your culture. This “oversight” is evident in music style, preaching, and involvement. A truly diverse church not only acknowledges these differences, it celebrates them. This can be deceptive because a church can have the allusion of multiculturalism, all while saying we don’t value your perspective and background.

I have found that it may be better to simply measure color and culture based on the church’s community dynamics. If the local area has a high Hispanic and Nigerian population, then a truly multicultural church should reflect those numbers in their membership and involvement.  At Vertical Church Atlanta, we see our cultural differences in social economics, age, and educational backgrounds. Yes, the vast majority of our attendees are African American, but 97% of our community is as well. We have other colors and cultures represented in our body, but we represent our community. I would say that we are multicultural. We are not half white or black, but well represented. I think that should be the goal!

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