"What's wrong with our church?"
It was a sincere question. The elder wanted to know why there seems to be a steady erosion of attendance, discipleship and evangelism at his church.
Then I showed him the demographics of the church's community. Over 40 percent of the area was non-white and growing, but the church was above 95 percent white. My response was simple: "You are not connecting with your community. The ethnic and racial diversity of the community is not reflected in the church."
This church is one of tens of thousands of congregations that are one color, one race or one group. Why? Why is this reality still taking place today? Let's look at seven reasons.
- Racism still exists. Racism has not gone away. The events of this weekend in Virginia remind us of that tragic reality. Some pastors are still fired because they encourage racial and ethnic diversity in their churches. Other forms of racism are more subtle, but no less toxic.
- There is no intentionality. Churches that are evangelistic have leaders and members who are intentional about reaching people for Christ. Churches that better reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of our world are more intentional about praying, seeking and acting upon their desire to reach people who may not look like them.
- The leadership of the church is not diverse. If the ministry staff and lay leadership do not reflect the diversity of the community, the church is sending a clear message. The diverse community cannot have a true voice in the church if it is not represented in the leadership of the church.
- Many church leaders and members do not know what takes place in their own communities. Many times when I have met with church leaders and shared the demographics and realities of the members of their community, they express total surprise at what is taking place. Their church is a bubble. Or to use another metaphor, the congregation is an island of sameness in a community of diversity.
- There is no planned effort to connect with the community. Sure, it's helpful to have events for the community on the church property. But it's even better to go to the community where they are. The "go" approach is much more meaningful and biblical than the "you come" approach.
- The current church members do not intentionally connect more deeply with the diverse members of the community. When I met with the leaders of one church, some of the leaders expressed frustration they were not connecting well with the diversity of the community where they were located. They told me that the community members were welcomed and received well when they came to a worship service. I then asked if they were ever invited to their small groups or to the church members' homes. Silence. To their credit, they got it, and they are doing much better reflecting the community they serve today.
Revelation 7:9 says, "Then I looked. And there was a great multitude which no one could count, from all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands."
Such is the diversity of the kingdom.
And so should be our churches.
Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
This article originally appeared at thomrainer.com.
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