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Segregation, Diversity and the church March 5, 2020

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.

With a shrinking congregation and a changing neighbourhood the pastor of a once large church sent teams door to door to invite new people. But something was puzzling.

“Every time they gathered to invite new people to church, the pastor sent them a few miles west of their present neighbourhood, to the newly developing suburbs …populated by people of the same race and class”

This was 1990 and as the church members worked out what was happening they had mixed reactions. Their community had changed vastly over the previous decades. The pastor was following what he believed to be the logical conclusions of a mission strategy known as the homogenous unit principle, the simple idea that churches grow faster if everyone in them looks and sounds the same. Eventually he went on to recommend that they sell their building and move to the new white neighbourhood.

The free preview of Michael O. Emerson’s “People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States” I stumbled across on Google books came to an end just as the church was voting on this decision.

How diverse is your own church? How would they have voted? This certainly isn’t just a US issue. Despite decades of discussion within the Church of England, reports constantly suggest there is still plenty of division and institutional racism in the UK Church as well as wider society. This isn’t just about overt attitudes and comments but also more subtle discrimination and lack of awareness.

A video presented to the General Synod of the Church of England a few years ago covered some of the issues.

Moving from race to language my own research suggests that many people assume that providing people speak English ‘well enough’ language isn’t an issue (see section on #multilingualchurch).

If you are wondering what happened at Wilcrest Baptist Church the current facebook page of the church may be a spoiler.


How diverse does your church look and sound compared to your local community?

Here are a few resources from the UK to explore:

…and if you are still reading, here’s a quote and a song from South Africa

In my nation South Africa, we have 11 official languages. English happens to be our lingua franca even though it’s a second language to the majority of the population. In our context when we refer to multi cultural worship we often mean people from different cultures and ethnicities worshiping together in English. I don’t think this is wrong, I just think it’s safe. It’s like painting with the same colour over and over again when you have a pallet with an assortment of colours at your fingertips.

Langa Mbonambi


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