Twenty years ago I read Frijof Capra’s The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. As I read this book, I first began to reflect on the notion of biodiversity as a worldview process that was beginning to take shape not only in the sciences, but in what people were calling the postmodern worldview. Over time, social theorists began naming this new way of thinking. It was not simply a reaction to modernism (post-modernism), but something entirely new, referred to as the ecological or unity worldview.
Some people began calling out its primary components, such as an ecosystem of global connectivity and respect for or protection of all kinds of diversity. It was future-oriented, reflective of a planet that was more immediately connected than humans ever dreamed possible, and economically more viable and productive. As already mentioned, one aspect of this new way of thinking about the world is the respect for and protection of diversity.
Here are some considerations that respecting and valuing diversity has for church planting:
Homogeneous churches can more effectively utilize marketing techniques and thus grow more quickly. People who are like each other are more responsive to the same mailers, connect better with the same topical message series, and more easily form small friendship groups than do people who are quite different from one another. However, we are learning that homogeneity can mean generation, socioeconomic group, education level or lifestyle— not just race and ethnicity. Some churches think they are diverse, but they may be just a different kind of homogenous. As we expand our definition of homogeneity, this will reframe our understanding of patterns and models to grow and plant churches.
Starting organically multiethnic churches
The Homogeneous Unit Principle was first proposed and promoted by missiologist Donald McGavran in the 1960s stating that it is easier for people to become Christians when they must cross few or no racial, linguistic, or class barriers. However, there is an increasing number of examples where multiethnic churches are thriving and multiplying. Currently, I am working with three Black, one Iranian, one second-generation Hispanic, and one Filipino lead planter who are planting or hope to plant churches that cut across all races and ethnicities. A Korean church where I live is investing a large sum of money into a church being started by a young white surfer; and, another local African-American planter who started two predominantly black churches is now working on Chinese and a Hispanic church plants. The majority of planters with whom I work are either married to a person of another race or have adopted children from other races and places. None of them calls themselves multiethnic churches. They are just churches.
Valuing diversity beyond race and ethnicity
A growing number of planters I know are intentionally starting churches in communities that are diverse socioeconomically, generationally, and educationally as well as racially and ethnically. This kind of diversity becomes a primary value that affects the vision of the church. Most have formulated a significant theology of place, and choose dense urban areas where their roles become pastors to the community and not just pastors to the people who attend their churches. Together, all kinds of people work together to make a difference in their neighborhoods and local communities. This type of diversity is grounded and interwoven with the theology of place–the neighborhood and community. Diversity is reflected in visible leadership roles as well as every day decision making.
Acknowledging economic factors
When new churches are started out of just one ethnic group, they may grow more slowly than do churches whose potential membership cuts across those lines. For example, four churches started among English speakers who are Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic, each of them reaching 50 people, are going to be smaller, and become financially viable less quickly than the church where people from all of these backgrounds worship together. Note that we are not saying that there is no value in single culture churches. Things like language and stylistic ways of worship really are important. On the other hand, I am certain that the advent of the multiethnic church where I live has sometimes meant more successful, economically viable new churches.
Rejoicing in Kingdom potential
I remember clearly the first time I ever heard that someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord (Phil 2:11). It was completely exhilarating to imagine a time a great multitude from every tribe, people and language would worship together (Rev. 7:9). People who already value diversity, but are not yet followers of Christ find this to be a beautiful picture, too. I remember telling a young Muslim woman in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia how I loved the diversity of her city because it was a picture of the world God wanted too, and He would bring this to fruition someday. It made her so happy. This Kingdom vision is motivating Christians to reach out to their neighbors who represent some of the least reached people groups on the planet. Familiarity with diversity culture crossing makes it possible for more churches to decide to partner with churches internationally that his Kingdom may come. Amen.