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Discomfort in the Pews: Working With Multiethnic Congregations

Corey Widmer wrote an interesting piece at Christianity Today about his work within a multiethnic congregation in Richmond, VA. He outlines some of the unique situations he and the other congregational leaders and members encountered in attempting to bridge ethnic divides: “the way we do things here” has different meanings in different places. He writes,

Despite the rapid diversification of American society, the typical American congregation remains culturally homogenous. Still, there is an exciting, fresh movement toward reconciliation and healing within the church all over the country. About seven years ago, a group of us responded to the call of God to start a new church in the city of Richmond, VA. Pastor Don Coleman, an African American neighborhood pastor, and I teamed up to co-pastor this new community called East End Fellowship, the goal of which was to embody a culturally reconciled fellowship. We believed that one of the clearest ways we could bear witness to the good news about Jesus was to demonstrate that the gospel has power to bring divided peoples together in a common community.

Living out this goal proved to be far more difficult than any of us ever anticipated. We discovered that cultural differences run to the core of almost every way we “do church.” For example, the white folks expected an hour-long service, but for the black folks a two-hour service seemed abbreviated. The white families expected a highly structured children’s ministry, while many of the black families came from churches in which the children were a part of the entire worship service. We ran up against cultural differences in almost every aspect of congregation life—from worship music to preaching styles, from hospitality ministry to small group ministry. This struggle led us to an important conclusion: what keeps people congregationally segregated may not so much be racial animosity but rather profound cultural differences, and an undergirding consumer mentality that keeps us selecting congregations that best meet our personal cultural preferences.

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Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org