Multiracial Church Plants Difficult, But Necessary
How courage, patience, resilience, compassion, and passion for souls enabled six pastors to plant multiracial congregations
By John W. Kennedy
Not until half a century ago did public schools in Little Rock integrate — after Gov. Orbal Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block nine African-American students from entering the all-white Central High School as angry Caucasian parents amassed outside. Ultimately, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to escort black teens inside, but racial tensions closed schools the entire next year.
Fifty years later, the capital of the Natural State has progressed in many respects. In other ways, attitudes have changed little since 1957. Most churches, not only in Arkansas or even the South, but also across the entire United States, have a long history of like-minded people assembling. Segregation has remained entrenched in houses of worship longer than practically any other institution.
A fully integrated church model is rare, but it is being done, and in some places, done well. In Little Rock, where around 55 percent of the population is white and 40 percent black, a congregation leading the way is Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas.
When Pastor Mark DeYmaz planted the inner-city church 6 years ago, he left a comfortable pastoral staff position in a predominantly white suburban Little Rock neighborhood. He intentionally sought racially and ethnically diverse leadership. Today, 40 nationalities are represented among the more than 600 attendees at Mosaic.
“Many churches have the potential to become diverse and emerge as multicultural,” says Steve Pike, director of church planting for the Assemblies of God. “The key is to recruit leaders who reflect the diversity of people you’re trying to reach.”
An important first step is to exegete the neighborhood — to find out the ethnic and racial makeup, education levels, and economic status of those who call the area home.
Diverse leadership — in the staff, the board, and the worship team — must be evident to those in the pews.
“It’s not really diversity if you just talk about it, but don’t take steps to make it happen,” says Herbert L. Cooper Jr., pastor of People’s Church in Oklahoma City.
“It’s important for the congregation to see the mixture,” says Ray Llarena, pastor of Harvest Christian Center in Chicago, a church with a Mexican-American youth pastor, Filipino worship leader, African-American care pastor, and white Christian education minister.
Many Christians still see it as somehow unnatural to worship with a majority of people from another race. More than 90 percent of U.S. congregations are bodies in which one racial group makes up at least 80 percent of the attendees.
Clearly, a multiracial congregation does not result from a church planter’s wishful thinking.
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