For awhile, the content on the Sojourn Network blog has fit cozily within our distinct categories: church planting, preaching, leadership, health, and a few others. But lately, we've been thinking a lot about the future of our network and opportunities for growth. There are so many worthy topics we could cover, so many stories to share, so many ways we could employ writers and gifted leaders, but our aim as a network is — and always has been — to help pastors plant, grow, and multiply healthy churches that last. That is why we exist. And that is the laser-focus of this blog.
I say all of this by way of introduction. Today, we're kicking off a new (!!!) category we're calling "Multi-". Read on to find out more about the work we look forward to sharing with you in the future and how we hope this new addition to the blog will help pastors plant, grow, and multiply healthy churches that last.
We live in a diverse, multicultural world and one that continues to grow increasingly so. Immigration, migration, and displacement have dramatically transformed the composition of most urban centers and surrounding regions with the reality of a multicultural demographic trajectory.
A few notable trends are rapidly unfolding across the United States. First, over the next forty years the overall population is expected to steadily increase. Second, during this period of overall population growth, there will be a significant increase in the non-white population within the nation attributed to immigration and high birth rates of non-white ethnic groups. The third significant trend is that by the year 2050, the white population of the United States is predicted to be both older and smaller than the non-white population. The United States is in the midst of dramatic cultural shifts, which are shaping the very fabric of society and culture. Even for those who may have been unaware of some of these changing forces, current events have brought the recognition that America is made up of many diverse representations of people into sharp focus. We are a multicultural nation.
Considering these cultural shifts, some Christians have expressed concern over the resulting effects of these transitions from a Christian to a post-Christian society and from a modern to a postmodern society, which has resulted in declining church participation among traditional church-going populations in America. For some, the pursuit of diversity in churches is viewed from a critical standpoint. As it has become attached to political or religious labels such as liberation theology, the ministry of reconciliation has been dismissed in some circles as divisive — a ploy of the theologically liberal. Perhaps just as challenging, engaging in the ministry of reconciliation may be dismissed simply because it is deemed ineffective in the larger mission associated with much of traditional evangelicalism. Emerson and Smith in their seminal work Divided by Faith write that, “The processes that generate church growth, internal strength, and vitality in a religious marketplace also internally homogenize and externally divide people. Conversely, the processes intended to promote the inclusion of different peoples also tend to weaken the internal identity, strength, and vitality of volunteer organizations.” In a ministry culture influenced by church growth strategies, efforts at reconciliation might be viewed as counter-effective if the goal is to reach as many people as possible. A value of “bigger is better” can make reconciliation in the church seem like a wasted effort as the results may not produce as great a yield as a more “Homogeneous Unit Principle” approach would.
However, others have responded to our changing societal landscape with a more hopeful outlook on the opportunities presented to the church to respond biblically in such a time as this. As David T. Olson describes, “As the power of [global] Christianity moves south and east, the multi-ethnic church is becoming the normal and natural picture of the new face of Christianity.” A church seeking to be a missional presence in these current times must recognize and respond to these shifts in the makeup of society. Failure to do so will have harmful ramifications for the church. As Mark DeYmaz, one of the leading thinkers on the multiethnic church, shares,
In an increasingly diverse and cynical society, people will no longer find credible the message of God’s love for all people when it’s proclaimed from segregated churches. In these changing times, those without Christ will respond not to platitudes but rather to practice, not to words but only to an authentic witness of God’s love for all people that is daily displayed in life and action.
I lay this groundwork to introduce my hopes for this category of the Sojourn Network blog we are calling “Multi-”, as well as what this will NOT be. My observation in many primarily White Evangelical spaces is that there is often a genuine desire for greater diversity in their churches, but not as much work done in exploring the reasons why their churches may not be culturally representative in the first place. So, if this is just about helping our churches grow more diverse, I feel we may have lost the point and might perhaps even lead to greater damage to the larger witness of Christ in the long run. A sober evaluation of our “tribes” would be a humble acknowledgment that we have not done well in issues of reconciliation, even if our gospel may be doctrinally orthodox. (On that thought, can we say our doctrine is truly orthodox if it does not address matters of reconciliation but that’s a post for another time.)
I wholeheartedly believe that these are areas of needed discourse and growth if we are to appropriately exegete our culture. My hope is that this space can be one where we dig a little deeper into these issues of justice, be pressed in some thought which may not be natural to all of us, and perhaps even spur the readers on to further study and reflection. Maybe the Lord may even lead some of us to repentance in ways we were not even aware of.
I believe in the Church and her mission. And because of that, I am always seeking how we may continually be refined to better reflect the glory and beauty of Christ. I look forward to this opportunity to improve our missional posture and walk with you on this journey together.