The Multiethnic Church Movement Hasn’t Lived up to Its Promise

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Multiracial churches have not been good news for everyone. What can we do about it?

Pastor Richard Johnson struck me as an affable person as he excitedly shared with me the journey that led him to start a multiethnic church. It was 2010, and we were meeting for lunch on Ohio State University’s campus at his request. He was still in the early stages of church planting and reached out when he heard that I—a Christian and a professor who studied multiracial churches—lived in his town.

Over lunch, I listened to Pastor Rich tell me his story about why he chose to leave the black church and make his foray into the multiethnic church world.

“I was praying about a Latina worship leader because we’re going to be diverse, you know, in what we represent up front. We’re doing this because of (every nation, tribe, people, and language in) Revelation 7,” he recalls telling me. “We just have to do this differently.”

But I wasn’t buying it. Having studied multiracial churches, I knew he was in for a rude awakening. I shared some of what I discuss in my book The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches: Multiracial churches tend to mimic white churches in their culture and theology; whites are not comfortable with black church culture or addressing the elephant in the room, race; multiracial churches work—that is, remain diverse—to the extent that their white members are comfortable.

Pastor Rich remained undeterred. He told me recently: “I was saying all the right things, what we are taught typically when we plant multiracial churches. All of the boxes, I was checking off.”

Church-planting strategies like Pastor Rich’s seem at first glance to be paying off. The number of multiracial churches has risen steadily in the US …

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