What is a Multicultural Congregation?
A Multicultural Congregation is:
- less that 80% of any single ethnic/racial/cultural group
- a specific concern for and attention to its multicultural identity
- a vision that includes growth in diversity through congregational development and evangelism
The Episcopal Church in
The Present: The changes of the late 20th century and increasing globalization made the Episcopal Church take note of new cultures in society. This led many dioceses to plant congregations that are made up of one culture to address the needs of other ethnic groups: for example, Hispanics or Africans. We called the result “multicultural ministry.”
In a sense, that was true: by planting Hispanic or African churches, the Church was becoming multicultural at diocesan level, but not helping individual congregations to reflect the world around us.. The continued division of cultures, races and ethnicities is, still, most apparent on Sunday morning when we worship in separate congregations.
False Choice: Unfortunately, this strategy conveyed to everyone a false choice: a congregation could be welcoming to English speaking whites, or it could be welcoming to other groups: Few places were working on reconciliation between English speaking whites and the rest of the population (see 2 Corinthians 5). What was not being done was to bring true communion among “every language, people and nation” in service of God.
Perpetual Dependence: In addition to continued separation by race, culture or ethnicity, this form of multicultural ministry meant that dioceses have substantially borne the financial support of each “multicultural” congregation. The financial burden has led many dioceses not to enter into such ministry. To date, this strategy has not produced an ethnic congregation with parish status. Moreover this strategy conveys the idea of noblesse oblige by the English speaking whites toward other cultures and seems to perpetuate dependence.
The Status of Separation: The Office of Multicultural Ministry will not support planting separate, mono-cultural, minority congregations until the issues of dependency and separation have been evaluated to see if the model is theologically sound and will yield fruit. Although separate plants may resume, this evaluation must be deliberately pursued.
The Future: In the 21st century, in the Diocese of Texas we have some churches which are multicultural! Some worship together in English, others are have separate services in different languages. These missionary outposts have quietly gone about the business of conscious outreach and integration of the “other”. So what makes a multicultural church? The Office of Multicultural Ministry (OMM) has adopted the following definition of “multicultural” congregations:
- The congregation has a Gospel-based purpose or “vision”. Multiculturalism is NOT the reason for a church: The Gospel is. The Gospel vision defines the right foundation for the congregation (Matt. 7:24-27). The inclusion of different cultures is in our birth, our DNA, not separate from it. See Acts 2:1-12.
- No one race/ethnicity/culture makes up more than 80% of the congregation’s average Sunday attendance (ASA). Another way to say it is: At least 20% of the ASA will be comprised of people from another ethnic, racial or cultural group different from the remaining 80%. The larger group must engage the smaller group(s) to live life faithfully. See Luke 10:27-36.
- The congregation intentionally fosters and cultivates multicultural membership and leadership. The Church both attracts and sustains the other cultures with intentional sharing and mutual ministry. As with the work of stewardship, Christian formation and worship, intentionality in evangelism and spiritual growth for the members of the church is a core requirement for Christian mission.
- The congregation integrates contributions from the race/ethnicity/culture of the groups being served. Each culture has gifts to share. Culture affects leadership, stewardship, worship, Christian education, planning and a host of other normal church activities. Sharing and enjoying these varied gifts is a requirement of the Gospel. See the 1 Corinthians 12.
- The congregation teaches and practices skills to address inter-group relationships and group conflicts. All gifts are meant “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12-13). The church can and must learn inter-cultural skills and ways of being together that serve the wellbeing of the whole Body of Christ.
The Definition and Goal Setting: This definition tells us how to identify congregations that are multicultural. It can also serve existing congregations and future congregational plants that seek to be multicultural.