I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful
tragedies, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated
hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America. I definitely think
the Christian church should be integrated, and any church that stands against integration and that has a segregated body is standing against the spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and it fails to be a true witness. But this is something that the Church will have to do itself. I don’t think church integration will come through legal processes. I might say that my church is not a segregating church. It’s segregated but not segregating. It would welcome white members. Martin Luther King Jr on Meet the Press April 17, 1960
Someone asked me a couple weeks ago, “How can we get Black People to join our church?” The people asking were White Christians and they were hoping to become more racially diverse.
The answer to this question is complex, but here are some initial followup questions:
- Why do you want your congregation to be diverse racially? Did you hear that diverse congregations are popular with Millennials? Has it occurred to you that a segregated congregation doesn’t look anything like the kingdom of God?
- Are People of Color (truly) welcome in your worship services and other events?
- Do people treat new worshipers – especially people who don’t look like the majority of worshipers in skin color, age, abilities – like rare birds who are stared at and tiptoed around?
- Is your staff diverse? This is a big one.
Depending on your congregation’s polity, Bishops, Church Elders, Pastor Nominating Committees, and Personnel Committees have the power to interview and hire/call pastors, educators, administrators, and music leaders. Especially when it comes to calling new pastoral leaders, there’s pressure to select a combination of Jesus/Rock Star Pastor. There is also pressure to select a pastoral leader who will make everybody comfortable.
[Note: Jesus probably made a lot of people uncomfortable and Rock Stars can be divas who prioritize making themselves comfortable.]
If your congregation’s neighborhood is changing, it makes sense to call a pastor who reflects those demographic changes.
If your workplace, your children’s classrooms, and the stores in which you shop are racially diverse, it makes sense to have a church staff that looks like the office, the classroom, and the Target where you and your family spend your time.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that there are segregated churches and there are segregating churches. Yes, most of our congregations are racially segregated. But the great sin is that most of our congregations are also racially segregating.
Image from Thrivent Financial with ideas on how we can serve others on this national holiday. If nothing else, write a letter of thanks to a first responder, take food to a shelter, or volunteer where needed today. Thanking God for prophets of justice like Dr. King.