|Part 1 in a three-part series
TWIN CITIES — The Twin Cities metropolitan area is home to more than 3,400 churches, according to the Rev. Dr. John Mayer, executive director of City Vision and a leading church demographer. Of those 3,400 churches, however, only about seven percent—or 244—can be considered multi-ethnic or multi-cultural.
That number, nevertheless, is growing as the Twin Cites become more diverse and as more congregations become intentional about making their bodies look more like the culture around them.
Even though more congregations are embracing a multi-ethnic approach to ministry, the work ahead of them is not always easy.
Carl Nelson, president of Transform Minnesota, a statewide network of evangelicals and evangelical denominations, said pursuing a multi-ethnic ministry approach is not necessarily a path to church growth.
“Pastors that I have talked to would say that being committed to being a multi-ethnic church is not necessarily a growth strategy to become a large mega-church because you’re focused on something else,” he said. “In a multi-ethnic church, you’re focused on serving and building community among people who are not necessarily like each other.”
Yet the shared faith of congregants—regardless of their cultural or ethnic background—can overcome some of the barriers that initially exist.
“In a multi-ethnic church, you have people from different cultural, ethnic, national backgrounds brought together, and—outside of the church—initially they may not necessarily share much of life together, a lot of common experiences together,” Nelson continued. “But they come [together] in the church and around Jesus Christ and around their faith.”
While in some congregations a multi-ethnic approach might happen fairly naturally or organically, other churches need to be more intentional about it in order to find success.
Mayer believes that a common characteristic across all multi-ethnic congregations is this intentionality.
“I think they have [intentionality] as their value; it’s not by accident,” he said.
Also, churches need buy-in on the part of the senior pastor in order to find success, Nelson believes.
Moving in the right direction
More churches have embraced this desire for diversity as their communities have become more multi-cultural, especially in the last decade or so.
“Most of the multi-ethnic churches are fairly new,” Mayer said. “Almost 60 percent have been started since 2000.”
Also, more than two-thirds of them are under 100 people, thus they exist as what Mayer calls “hidden in plain sight.” Many of these congregations are also house churches, congregations that are small enough to meet in a parishioner’s home or other small facility.
Mark DeYmaz, founding pastor of Mosaic Church in Arkansas and author of “Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church,” believes the multi-ethnic church movement is currently in the “Pioneer Stage.”
In an interview with the Out of Ur blog of “Leadership Journal,” DeYmaz notes a trend moving toward more diversity within American congregations.
“… I do promote a measurable goal of 20 percent diversity in 20 percent of churches throughout the U.S. by 2020, knowing that this goal represents a tipping point that will largely inform local church ministry for the rest of the century.”
In addition, DeYmaz said more churches are identifying themselves as “multi-ethnic” or “multi-racial” or “multi-cultural,” thus supporting the idea that additional churches are embracing this vision.
Nelson noted that when DeYmaz spoke this summer at the organization’s “Coming Together” conference, which focuses on multi-cultural ministry, DeYmaz was encouraged by where Twin Cities churches are in the multi-ethnic movement.
Last month, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), an organization committed to working on issues of reconciliation, held their annual conference in Minneapolis, partially citing the area’s commitment to CCDA principles and the number of those practicing them in the Twin Cities.
Where is it happening?
Of the 244 churches Mayer considers practicing multi-ethnic ministry in the Twin Cities, several stand out, he believes: New City of Nations Church began ministry last month and already had more than 100 people in attendance at its first service; Church of All Nations in Columbia Heights with the Rev. Jin Kim has been pursuing this vision for many years; Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul has been on this road for more than 20 years; Spiritual Life Church has more than 1,000 people in attendance; and many others are doing important work.
Groups, meetings and other gatherings have also proven important for leaders and churches interested in becoming more multi-ethnic.
Transform Minnesota has been hosting the Multi-cultural Church Leadership Cohort for the last seven years. Currently, the group has 50 leaders from more than 20 congregations and will continue to meet through the spring of 2013.
“The initial reason that that group came together was because they were pastors who were in kind of pioneer multi-ethnic churches that realized that they needed to connect with other leaders and talk to other pastors and even meet with people in other cultural groups to learn from them,” Nelson said. “I think that’s a real important thing.”
In addition, Nelson noted that the Sanctuary Community Development Corporation and the Rev. Richard Coleman host a network called Bridge of Reconciliation, whose purpose it is to build relationships and focus on reconciliation.
What’s the future look like?
Mayer is confident that the movement toward more multi-ethnic churches is not just a trend but something that will continue to expand and spread. One of the reasons why, he believes, concerns how second- and third-generation immigrants desire to become more involved with their new culture.
“The first generation [immigrant] tends to be mono-cultural because of language and culture,” he said. “The second and third generation tend to … they don’t want to go to mom and dad’s church … That’s another reason there’s a rise in these multi-cultural churches. They speak English, they’re American citizens, their school is multi-cultural. They don’t want to go [to just an immigrant church].”
Nelson, too, is encouraged about the future.
“Certainly there will be more multi-ethnic churches in the future,” he said. “I’m encouraged. When I look at some of the movement, some of the relationships that are happening, the Cohort that I mentioned, the annual conference that we’ve been a part of called ‘Coming Together,’ I am encouraged by that.”
Next month we will look at specific churches and organizations that are intentional about becoming more multi-ethnic.
ACTIONPOINT: For more information about City Vision, visit www.cityvisiontc.org. For more information about Transform Minnesota, visit www.transformmn.org.