Three Benefits of Fostering a Multicultural Church
Benjamin Clements Assistant Curate Deep Creek Anglican Church
If you were to ponder three or four words that describe your church or ministry, would 'multicultural' be one of them? Christians can hold a variety of views around multicultural ministry.
Perhaps you are curious about multicultural churches but aren't sure what the benefits might be. Or perhaps you've been considering pursuing a more multicultural community in your church but aren't sure how to communicate it biblically or pragmatically with others. In this article, we will consider three benefits of fostering a multicultural church.
What is a 'multicultural' church?
Before we discuss the benefits of fostering a multicultural church, it's important to consider what 'multicultural' is. Demarcations of race and ethnicity are certainly major categories which constitute a person's culture, but so are lesser considered differences, such as generational age groups, differences in income, profession, education, and gender. While it's always beneficial to consider multicultural in the broadest sense of the term, we will give particular focus to demarcations of race and ethnicity in this article.
What does it mean for a church community to be multicultural—distinct from, say, multiethnic? Douglas Brouwer gives a helpful perspective, claiming that multicultural churches extend beyond a mere 'unexpected mix of nationalities, races, and skin tones', rather multicultural churches are ones that represent an engagement of people from varied nationalities, but who still identify with and engage with those cultures to some degree.1
In other words, a multiethnic church in Australia might have a congregation comprised of people from different nationalities, but their expression of worship remains distinctly monocultural, meaning that these people's deeper cultural identities are not engaged with to a meaningful level. A multicultural church, by contrast, envisages a church which enables and fosters Chinese Christians worshipping as Chinese Christians, South Sudanese Christians as South Sudanese, Anglo Christians as Anglo. Of course, with this vision comes much to ponder and many complexities to navigate, which is why it's helpful to consider some benefits of fostering a multicultural church. Here are three:
i. Multicultural churches are an outworking of the gospel
A first benefit of churches embracing multicultural identities is theological. A multicultural church is a clear outworking of obedience to God's word and will, and follows the pattern set by Christ and the Apostles (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:5–11; 1 Corinthians 9:20–23; Galatians 3:26–29). Rebecca McLaughlin rightly affirms that 'the Christian movement was multicultural and multiethnic from the outset… [and that] Christianity is the most ethnically, culturally, socioeconomically, and racially diverse belief system in all of history.'2 This theme is even clearer if we approach this issue eschatologically, as Revelation 7:9 envisages a vividly multicultural, eternal kingdom. And so, it is not accurate to suggest that the church should be multicultural; rather, the church is multicultural.
And yet, I suspect Brouwer's experience resonates with many of us: 'No church I have served over the years has looked exactly like the neighborhoods and communities in which the churches were located', instead often finding themselves drifting into monoethnic groups.3 Tracey Lewis-Giggetts makes a similar observation: 'Heaven is going to look a whole lot different from your church right now.'4 Her book The Integrated Church invites us to imagine what our churches could be if we cultivated a multicultural vision:
[W]e must align ourselves fully with the will of God. Christ is returning for a church that is without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Eph. 5:27), and that church is dynamically multicultural, multiracial, and subsequently, multidimensional. It will take a church that looks this way to accomplish the will of God on the earth.5
ii. Multicultural churches cultivate mutual edification
A second benefit of fostering a multicultural church is the prospect of mutual edification when Christian cultures interact. According to Lewis-Giggetts and Mason Okubo, when contemplating cultural diversity in the church, well-meaning Christians may find themselves in regrettable extremes of either scepticism or naïve denial. One side believes that since people naturally gather in homogeneous ethnic groups, churches ought not be different to this. This leads to the prevalence of different monoethnic churches (Asian, black, white, etc.) and scepticism towards the notion of a culturally diverse church. Conversely, other seemingly open-minded Christians are 'colour-blind', often claiming that racial difference ought not be a factor at all in the church. Undoubtedly, someone's claim to not recognise colour in someone else could be interpreted as flattery—the mantra 'colour-blind is colour-kind' even appeared in a contemporary sitcom I watched this week. However, to not recognise or acknowledge someone's culture, in essence, is to not see them. It is a denial of a large portion of someone's identity.6 Either of these extremes is to be avoided.
A sincere fostering of a multicultural church is mutually edifying for believers, since it ensures that our own cultural biases, blind spots, ethnocentrism, and bigotry are challenged and corrected in love. Manuel Ortiz rightly holds that it is only through a pursuit of multicultural ministry that 'Christians [learn to] repent of their ungodly views and feel a fresh desire to learn from each other, declaring their need for their brothers and sisters.'7
Likewise, for those pursuing Christian academia, Jeffrey Greenman cautions Anglo theologians from relying exclusively on Western perspectives on the Bible and theology, since these by themselves 'cannot satisfy the global church's search for truth and faithful service.' His solution, then, is for Anglos to humbly turn to their global family in Christ, which is increasingly present 'literally next door' to us in the community, recognising them sincerely as 'brothers and sisters as servants, as co-laborers and fellow pilgrims'.8
iii. Multicultural churches contribute to church viability
A third benefit of fostering a multicultural church relates to the pragmatic viability of the church community. In her thesis, Meewon Yang claims that multicultural churches in culturally diverse contexts are necessary for the ongoing viability of the church. She holds that Anglo-Australian churches which remain monocultural are at an increasing risk of becoming unsustainable, since the context around them is increasingly becoming culturally diverse. In other words, for a church to choose not to pursue a multicultural vision is to unconsciously pursue a church that ministers to an increasingly declining demographic. A reluctance from leaders to culturally transform Anglo-Australian churches will not only distance themselves from the community they are desiring to reach, but will forgo plentiful opportunities for friendship and mission.9
Brouwer and others notice that churches will rarely become more multicultural simply because their context has developed and diversified over time. For this reason, culturally diverse churches will tend to be either newer establishments that were founded with the goal of being ethnically diverse, or else they will be older churches which have made conscious endeavours to better reflect the cultural diversity of their local context. And given the cultural context of Australia is becoming increasingly diverse, fostering a multicultural church will remain beneficial for the ongoing viability—or indeed the vitality—of that parish.
We've looked at three benefits of fostering a multicultural church, and I'm certain there are more. The church in this age will always exist in a context with at least some degree of cultural diversity, therefore church leaders and members alike should rejoice at the ever-increasing opportunities to reach the global mission field on their doorstep.
1 Douglas J. Brouwer, How to Become a Multicultural Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 6–7, quotation 6.
2 Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 35–37.
3 Brouwer, How to Become a Multicultural Church, 3.
4 Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts, The Integrated Church: Authentic Multicultural Ministry, eBook. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2011), 22
5 Lewis-Giggetts, Integrated Church, 13.
6 Lewis-Giggetts, The Integrated Church, 12–19; Mason Keĳi Okubo, 'Unity and Diversity: Being a Multicultural Church', Concordia Journal. 42/3 (2016): 203–209.
7 Manuel Ortiz, One New People: Models for Developing a Multiethnic Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), 76.
8 Jeffrey P. Greenman, '15. Learning and Teaching Global Theologies', in Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012), 241–243.
9 Meewon Yang, 'Ways of Being a Multicultural Church: An Evaluation of Multicultural Church Models in the Baptist Union of Victoria' (MCD University of Divinity, 2012),