G&P: DESCRIBE YOUR VISION FOR MULTICULTURAL MINISTRY AT CENTRAL CHURCH.
SB: Our key statement is, “One Church, Many Languages.”
MZ: We choose not to see borderlines in our community. We recognize that there are a variety of needs and a variety of cultures, so we want the church to make a conscious effort to recognize the variety of needs while being one church.
G&P: WHAT DOES THE “CONSCIOUS EFFORT” LOOK LIKE?
MZ: By “conscious effort,” we are speaking of intentionality. We want to be intentionally inclusive of the entire community, so that it becomes a natural part of who we are and how we plan.
SB: As lead pastor, I believe intentionality begins with how we speak. We don’t say, “They use our facility.” We don’t say, “They are joining us.” We are intentional in our description of the church as everyone’s church, not just those who speak English or who are from a particular culture. Our staff design, our committees, and our elected leadership reflect an intentional effort to hear the diverse voices of our community that are becoming part of our church family.
G&P: DESCRIBE SOME SPECIFIC WAYS THIS CHURCH’ S STRUCTURE REFLECTS DIVERSITY.
MZ: I was the first staff person hired by Pastor Sam, and my background includes working on district and denominational levels in multicultural ministry. I chair a committee that is intentionally staffed with two board members, as well as with representatives of the diverse cultural groups in the church. We give a report to the church board every month. I am part of all staff meetings, and Pastor Sam takes seriously the input of all of these diverse voices in our planning.
SB: Since most of the second generation immigrant populations speak English, we have a children’s ministry that combines all ethnic groups. As Pastor Mario mentioned, our staff and lay leaders reflect intentional diversity, so we can truly hear each other’s perspectives. The committee Pastor Mario chairs includes Latinos, Kenyans, Brazilians, Anglos, and French-speakers. They are not treated as an extraneous ministry or simply as “guests.” They are part of the outreach, mission, and ministry of the church.
MZ: This committee is comprised of chosen representatives from each cultural group and at least two elected board members. We meet monthly, and we give reports and make recommendations to the church board. There are groups that meet separately due to language needs, but even those groups are incorporated into the worship, planning, and overall mission of the church at least monthly.
G&P: HOW HAS HEARING THESE DIVERSE VOICES AFFECTED THE ACTUAL PLANNING THAT THE BOARD AND STAFF IMPLEMENT?
SB: These voices affect my own preaching, teaching, and discipleship. I have learned that as a white American, I have blind spots that Pastor Mario and others help me recognize and correct. These voices have made me more sensitive to the needs of many communities that I was previously not aware of.
MZ: It helps a great deal that we have district leadership that champions what we are trying to do, and it is helpful that this congregation already had a strong history of participating in ministry outside of their comfort zones. It makes for a smoother transition when we see members introducing themselves to each other, connecting with each other, and finding ways to incorporate others into ministry.
SB: Even the groups that meet separately are not marginalized. In fact, they are highlighted and their gifts are considered part of our church family. Consequently, our worship teams on Sundays and during the week are diverse.
MZ: That means that when people from another culture visit, they see someone up front and in leadership positions who looks like them! This can help solidify their identification with the congregation.
G&P: IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE MOVING BEYOND SIMPLY “BEING FRIENDLY” TO THOSE WHO ARE DIVERSE.
SB: Yes. For example, two times per month, we have a Wednesday night meal for all ages and all groups in the church. The sight of people from all backgrounds sitting together, combined with the smell of a variety of foods from different cultures, allows us to see that our fellowship is becoming like our vision.
MZ: We also take seriously the fact that each cultural group and each age group within each culture has different needs. We listen for those needs, we pray, and we plan together to take those needs seriously.
G&P: WHAT OTHER PRACTICAL MINISTRY TOOLS DO YOU FIND EFFECTIVE IN HEARING THESE VOICES?
MZ: In order to have the fullest representation of voices, we have practical ministries like ELL (English Language Learners, formerly called ESL). We also provide Spanish-language preparation classes for those preparing for ministry. Through these, we not only meet specific needs, but we also hear the diverse array of needs in the community and the congregation.
SB: Back to the second-generation connections: We find that as we make sure children and teens—most of whom speak English—are seen as equally important parts of our church community, it provides a welcome to their parents.
G&P: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CHURCHES THAT ARE SEEKING GREATER DIVERSITY?
MZ: When I worked as a district multicultural ministries coordinator, I typically shared a list. Some things on that list include: The pastor’s vision must be intentionally communicated regarding diversity. Also, prayer “percolates” the vision. Developing a team that shares the passion for diversity and inclusion is a next step. This team can work with the pastor and staff to inform and train people to meet the needs of a diverse community. As people become more aware and more prepared, they will be able to see that multicultural ministry is simply about bringing the gospel as near as possible to the people around us. If McDonald’s or Walmart is able and willing to bring their products as near to the people of their community as possible, the church can and should do this, as well.
SB: I would strongly agree that it begins with intentionality. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus invite us to exclude anyone. So a Kingdom-focused gospel will be inclusive. In our case, the community we are called to reach is becoming more diverse, so if we are serious about reaching the community for the kingdom of God, we will find intentional ways to become more diverse. The vision of the senior leadership sets the tone: We as senior leaders have to take this task seriously and find ways to reflect this. I would also say, take time to have conversations about this vision. Help each other begin seeing through the eyes of those who may be different from us culturally. Finally, we have to intentionally give people from diverse groups a seat at the table of leadership. It makes a difference when non-white attenders (in our case) come into the building and see that someone who looks like them is represented. This helps demonstrate that we are serious about making a place for everyone.