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One Church, Many Cultures

Updated: Mar 20

February 3, 2023

Mark Hedinger

Jesus prayed in John 17 that his children would be unified. Scripture is clear about the importance of unity. Just look at how often the word "all" shows up in the following verses.

  • God told Abraham that his offspring would be a blessing to all nations in Genesis 18 and 22

  • 2 Peter 3:9 says that God desires none should be lost, but that all would worship him

  • The Day of Pentecost saw converts from all nations Acts 2:5, 41

  • Deacons were appointed to ensure equality between Greek and Hebrew widows in Acts 6

  • The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) addresses bringing the Gentiles into the body, as does Romans 11 and Ephesians 3

  • In heaven, all nations and tongues will sing God's praise, Revelation 5:9

But even though that unity is part of the church, it has been challenging since the beginning and seems to be a significant challenge today. In 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The most segregated hour of Christian American is 11 o'clock Sunday morning." (NYT, Aug. 2, 1964) Segregation in the American church is not based solely on racial distinction. For fifty years church growth experts told us that churches were to be the same ethnically, politically, educationally, and racially. We disagree.

Ethnic diversity in churches lags behind the diversity in their surrounding neighborhoods making the church out-of-touch with the very community it seeks to reach. There are three types of ethnic identities characteristic of most churches.

Mono-Ethnic Congregations

Sociologist Michael Emerson defines multi-ethnic churches as having a minimum of 20 percent of attendees who don't identify with the dominant racial group. The latest data shows a shift from 86% to 81% mono-ethnic churches. While the move is positive, the lack of integration is still high. Immigrant churches are firmly represented in this group. Romanian, Russian, Korean, and Latino churches are common in many cities. Caucasian and African American churches also tend to be mono-ethnic.

Parallel Congregations or Multi-Congregational Churches

Many churches that claim to be diverse are parallel congregations. Some believe that parallel congregations are the best we can do as most churches face language and cultural barriers. These churches have many ethnicities that are divided into different activities and services, mostly based upon language. While there is significant representation from different ethnic groups, the whole body lacks integration, and the dominant culture usually maintains a level of administrative control.

Truly Multi-Ethnic Congregations

Many cultures are represented - not biracial groups - and they are one body. Although there are regular, distinct language services, there is equal leadership, integrated events, and cross-cultural relationship development.

The reality of the gospel no longer requires traveling to other nations and cultures. Our neighbors represent multiple cultures within our borders. As one body, with multiple cultures and languages represented, the church is positioned to more effectively reach the nations in our neighborhoods. CultureBound's desire is to see diverse congregations that are one body. CultureBound for Church Communities teaches church leaders and congregations to recognize different patterns of cultures and to build healthy cross-cultural relationships so that the body of Christ can be unified in diversity.


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