We tend to think of church as a building, a weekly gathering, or some particular set of programs in which we participate. In reality, though a church may (or may not) include all of these things, none of them are at the core of what a local church is. A local church is a definite group of Christians who gather together regularly to worship God and fellowship with one another. Church isn’t a weekly occurrence; it’s a living, breathing organism. Churches aren’t comprised of a chapel, kitchen, and classrooms; they’re comprised of the Jacksons, the Johnsons, Jemar, and Judy. They’re comprised of lay-people, elders, and deacons.
So when churches lack diversity, the problem is not fundamentally one of mono-cultural, mono-chromatic programs or gatherings. Fundamentally, the problem is a mono-cultural, mono-chromatic church; that is to say, the members of said church are living mono-cultural, mono-chromatic lives.
A church, then, probably won’t diversity by changing its programs, its music, or its preaching style. These things may contribute, but the real change will occur when a church’s its members diversify their own lives, and invite their relational spheres into the life of the community.
This sounds daunting, and indeed, it will be difficult. But for those of you who are convinced that non-diverse churches lose their prophetic witness, fail to provide perspective, and miss out on a foretaste of Heaven, this difficult work is non-optional.
If it is non-optional, how can we pursue it? I don’t seek to be comprehensive -in fact, I’d love for you to provide your own ideas – but below is a list of 10 ways to begin the pursuit of diversity in your own life. This list is accessible to every church member as he or she seeks to pursue God’s vision of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-generational community of believers.
- Change your grocery store. We all have to buy food. Where my wife and I live, we can drive five minutes to a Kroger in essentially all-white, wealthy Brentwood, or five minutes to a Kroger near Nipper’s Corner, which is rapidly becoming a representation of the nations in Nashville. Whatever your Nipper’s Corner Kroger is, choose it.
- Change your gym. Do you work out? Great. Apply the same principle as you did with the grocery store.
- Change your barber shop. One of my best friends recently told me over the phone that he decided to go to a barber shop totally employed by people of a different ethnicity than himself, simply to pursue diverse relationships. I was overjoyed. Think of the opportunity to form a relationship while with someone while they’re cutting your hair! You have nothing to do but talk!
- Diversify your entertainment. What kind of music do you listen to? I’m not culture-shaming (although I was recently accused of this by a pastor I know). There’s nothing wrong with liking a type of music that is part and parcel of your culture and ethnicity. But for the sake of pursuing diverse relationships, try switching it up. White Christian brothers and sisters, if you’re not listening to Trip Lee, Andy Mineo, and Jackie Hill Perry, you’re not only missing out on conversation opportunities, you’re missing out on fantastic, God-glorying music.
- Diversify your bookshelf. Take an inventory of the authors on your bookshelf. How many are the same color as you? When we read authors from different cultural backgrounds and of different ages and ethnicities, we admit that God doesn’t speak exclusively to and through our own culture, we have the opportunity to learn from those different than ourselves, and we open up the door to engage the other in ways that they will be comfortable with.
- Diversity your news source. Don’t just watch the same news channel, listen to the same news radio, follow the same news sources on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to the same podcasts. Switch it up. Again, it will give you a contact point with the other and allow you to engage them in meaningful conversation.
- Adopt a restaurant. I bet there are amazing restaurants within a few miles of your home that serve an ethnically different cuisine and are run by an ethnically different staff than you. Try them out, find one you like, and make it a part of your weekly or monthly routine!
- Meet your neighbors. Many of us (myself included) have neighbors whose names we do not know. Many of us have ethnically, culturally, and generationally different neighbors we don’t know. In today’s gentrifying world, many have socioeconomically different neighbors we don’t know. I’d encourage you, at the risk of being hypocritical, to meet your neighbors, learn their names, and invite them into your life.
- Maximize the diverse relationships you already have. If you scroll through your contact list, it’ll probably be mostly full of people who look like you. But I bet there are a few in there who don’t. You know at least a few people who are ethnically and culturally different than you. Give them a call this week. Find a reason – any reason – to spend time with them. Pursue diversity by maximizing the friendships God has already given you.
- Initiate a conversation. Just be open to the opportunity. As you engage in the above options, you will surely come face to face with countless opportunities to initiate a conversation. It will be awkward. It will feel forced. You might get a funny look or response every now and then. But remember: it’s worth it. God’s Kingdom is a kingdom filled with every tribe, tongue, and nation. If Heaven will be diverse, it’s worth overcoming the awkwardness to pursue diversity now.