Fostering (Real) Diversity is Harder than I Thought

by ShaunKing on July 2, 2009 · 24 comments

Earlier this week I created a list of 10 things about starting and growing a church that have been much harder than I expected.  Today I want to take a few minutes out to talk with you the item on the list that the most people requested we discuss…DIVERSITY!

Diversity is beautiful. Diversity is honorable.  Diversity is….DIFFICULT.

(Clarification: For me, REAL diversity includes race, gender, nationality, socio-economic status, and more.)

My family is diverse.  My neighborhood is diverse.  The part of downtown Atlanta I live in is very diverse.   The area of the city where our church facility is located is extremely diverse.  Heaven is (and will be) diverse. Because of these things, I sought out over a year ago when we were planning to launch Courageous Church for our church to be a genuinely diverse community of faith.

Let me make an honest stipulation here:

Diversity is not our primary goal, but it is one of our most important secondary goals.  I want to say this because while I feel like diversity honors God and improves the beauty of the church, our first and exclusive primary goal is to show people how to follow Jesus.  No matter how much I value any other issue (and I value a lot of issues), nothing trumps our primary calling in the earth. Period.

With that said, I just wanted you to hear from me that our church still values diversity in a major way, but I have found it a bit challenging.  First off, let me tell you a few ways we demonstrate diversity:

  • We have a diverse set of key, visible leaders on Sunday morning and during the week.
  • We use all types of music before and during our Sunday services.
  • I (try to) use a preaching style that is not overtly ethnic (like the Jasper Williams hoop) and will appeal to a broad section of people.

With that said, we still have a lot of room to grow in terms of diversity.  On some Sunday mornings our attendance is way more diverse than others, but I am still very proud of what we’re accomplishing.

I am wide open to what our church can do to continue to be more diverse and would love to hear what you see out there that’s working.  Do you have any questions about what we’re doing or want to discuss any challenges you’re having?

Let’s talk!

  • David Patrick

    That’s an extremely difficulty challenge to create diversity. It seems any time it is intentionally sought after the harder it is to obtain or maintain. Some of the more diverse places/churches that I have seen don’t really go after diversity at all which raises the big question… How are you all doing that?
    I recently saw a documentary on a church in Jacksonville Fl that is really diverse and that asked the pastor how it did it and he could not explain. He said I don’t think about it. Here is that church

    I’ve seen your song selection and have been kind of following the things you guys are doing and the efforts at diversity seem very legit like your song selections are all over the place which is great! But one thing I notice is that it is easier to a White pastor to “create” a diverse atmosphere than a black or other race pastor for some reason. Its very strange. Think about the most diverse congregations and who are the heads of those places? Perhaps a mixed race of people find it difficult to follow a non-white pastor still. It’s a big question and when you find out the answer let us all know. (-:

    -David Patrick

  • the uppity negro

    Just throwing this out there….hoping something may stick, lol….


    Maybe you're not meant to pastor a fully diverse church.

    While I FULLY support and appreciate multi-cultural churches, fact of the matter is that most churches are still segregated by race. It's my opinion, however, that race is really just on the outside, it's really more a cultural division. We attend church because of the cultural clues that the church gives out and attracts us to that church. Case in point….a sermon I preached on Sunday, I wouldn't be afraid to preach the same topic and still use some of the "black preacher-isms" in the sermon title, but I would be more than aware if the racial, ethnic and cultural background of the congregation was not all black, I would change some things around.

    Like David said above, it's an interesting phenomena, perhaps you'll be the one figure out the key to it all.

  • Stephanie

    Hi David!
    Excellent point about the white pastor having an easier time pastoring a diverse church than a black pastor. The only time I see it kind of work is with high profile pastors like Creflo Dollar and TD Jakes. I do wonder how it would work with a biracial pastor.

  • Stephanie

    Hi Pastor Shaun!
    I applaud you on how deliberate you are in utilizing strategies that draw a diverse congregation. I believe your endeavors are successful based on the last few Sundays I have attended. I think that once the church kicks off outreach, it will be more visible in the community and will draw a more diverse population. Your attempts thus far coupled with prayer will definitely move the Holy Spirit to bring to pass your vision for the church. Not sure if you have done this already, but there are faith based fraternities and clubs in the local colleges that are typically segregated, it may be a good idea to advertise the church to all of them by posting some fliers on their activities board or sending them an e-mail blast. These clubs need service hours. Once they become active in the outreach, I think they would be drawn to the church.

  • Larry

    David pretty much hit it on the head. It would be easy to follow a black pastor like Tony Evans, but what you find with most black ministers is that they choose to focus more on fighting racial discrimination than they do showing the community the grace and mercy offered by Christ. Certainly, discrimination violates Christ's command to love one another as we love ourselves, but the Gospel isn't about man's inhumanity to others but about a loving Father who allowed His Son to come and reconcile us all to Him.

    Most white Christians have no issue with the color of Jesus' skin. He could have been the blackest Ethiopian or had the slanted eyes of an Oriental or worn the red hair of a freckled Irishman. The God of scriptures accepted us all the way we are – bigotted, racist, ignorant, indifferent, apathetic, and totally screwed up. Explain why God would do that and people will flock to hear the Good News.

  • Ebony

    I agree, with all of the comments here. I go to a diverse church here in Washington, DC. But when I first started attending, I was one of 3-4 black people on a Sunday. Now it has grown tremendously and even more so as we have done outreaches. I think everything comes in time, and with prayer IT WILL happen. Believe that God will answer your prayers on diversity. I will definitely be visiting next time I am home in the area, and will try to bring some folks with me.

    Many blessings,

  • Ebony

    Some great points!!! I especially believe that God accepts us all the way we are. Did you mean Asians vs. Oriental?

  • Colette Walker

    Question: Can you consider a congregation to be diverse if the only time this "diverse" congreation interacts is INSIDE the church? I have a friend who Pastor's a historic church in NYC and wrote her PH.D on the topic of racial reconciliation within the church. One of the fallacies of diversity she says is that once all the elements are in place (music, preaching style, representative leadership) you have obtained some measure of diversity. But she believes if there is no interact between the members, not just the leadership, once church is over, visiting one another's neighborhoods/homes, eating together outside of church functions, casual unscripted fellowshiping etc, all you have is done is put very nice wrapping paper on the same box. It's something to think about.

  • Ebony

    Do you know the title of the paper? I would love to read it, sounds intriguing.

    I do know at my church, we do have the diversity outside of the church, in our home groups and dinner for eight groups. I think it is one of the best things I see, when it just isn't inside the church. Amen!


  • Michael Dennis

    My friend started a multi-ethnic church in memphis and started out with a white lead pastor and then transitioned to a black lead pastor and they are doing a pretty good job of crossing racial barriers in memphis.

    I imagine it depends on your context. Surely Atlanta has different racial tension then Texas (where I live) or D.C. We are in the midst of starting a new church and becoming more diverse, but not necessarily intentionally. It just happens to be the area of Austin we are in…

    Either way we should go back to context…if the area of Atlanta you are in is diverse (as you said) then the church that comes out of that area will likely and hopefully be diverse. Hopefully modeling to the community and Christ-follower that church isn't reduced to ones' mere personal preference of teaching, worship, and people.

  • Carl Thomas

    Our congregations reflect who we are. You and your wife went to colleges with people who choose to segregate by sex and race. You did your elementary school outreach in a school that was not diverse. Not casting stones at any of these things but they are what they are and none of these landmark events speak of diversity. On top of that you do blog posts criticizing Christian events that are too white. Not exactly rolling out the welcome mat.

    My church is diverse because that is who I am, not a goal I am trying to get others to adopt.

    Couple these things with the reluctance many white people have to submitting to black leaders, and the fact that you are leading a plant in the south, the lack of diversity seems pretty understandable, if not expected.

  • Stuart McDonald

    You attract who you are. Not who you wish, who you want to be, or who you think you should. You attract who you are. If your family is diverse, people who have those same values will be attracted to you and to the church. If that's something you place a value on, the people, who value it like you do, will come.

    Diversity in the church is one of the few things I don't think you can have a "strategy" for. I believe you can be intentional about appealing to different audiences, sure, but there's no clear cut way to make them enjoy it or stay. I also think you can take making diversity a priority too far by making sure everyone is included. You have to find your church's identity and be true to that.

    I will say that I believe a church pastored by a minority leader is more likely to be diverse than one that's lead by a white pastor. Not that it can't be the other way, but I think by and large, you'll find that the more diverse churches in the US are lead by minority pastors.

    I think you guys are on the right track with this. Diversity doesn't happen overnight. If it's something God has for you, it'll come naturally.

  • Colette Walker

    Thanks and praise God for your church! My friend is Rev Jacqui Lewis and she is the Sr. Pastor of Middlechurch 500 East 7th Ave NY, NY. On their website, ( go to her bio and you'll found info about her research which has been turned into a book.

  • Ebony

    Thanks! I look forward to reading up on it tonight!

    Many blessings!

  • Korin

    This is a very complicated issue. In the past when I have moved to a new place and began visiting churches, the only ones that I saw as being both diverse and fostering good race relations were cults. (I'm sure there are many exceptions, but I didn't happen to visit them.)

    When I lived in Atlanta the first time in the early 90s, I was part of a diverse church that was featured on a news special because diversity on Sunday mornings is so unusual (this church was led by a white pastor). My father predicted that instead of being a diverse church, we were probably attending a white church transitioning into a black church (a phenomenon he mentioned he had witnessed a few times before). His pessimistic views proved correct, and within the next few years many of the white members left the church.

    Also, a Lutheran school in East Point my mother worked at was pastored by a white minister, but was a diverse church because it had a good mix of church members that had been there for decades (white members) and members that attended the school or lived in the neighborhood (black members). When the pastor moved away, and was replaced by a black minister, the white church members fled. This was very hurtful to many of the members of the congregation who had built friendships with the older white members over many years.

    While I know that diversity is more than black and white, my experience regarding diversity in church has been a primarily black and white issue.

    Unfortunately, I have not contributed much to this conversation, other than relay some rather unfortunate patterns. As to how we can reverse these patterns, I have no idea.

  • Charles

    Diversity always sounds good but as you mentioned is hard to foster an authentic diverse community of faith. One of my professors noted that many churches have aesthetic diversity, were there are people that look different from one another but all are subservient to the dominant culture's form of worship while neglecting their own unique background. The challenge is to have ethnic diversity where people of various races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds have a seat at the table.

    Its difficult work, but be encouraged your on the right path.

  • Colette Walker

    Korin I think you raise an excellent point about diversity not being the same thing as inter-racial, inter-cultural, inter-socio-ecomonic relationships, which I would hope would be a goal of the church. Building solid relationships, 1st with God and than with each other, rather than us just "looking the part." If you have different types of people in a congregation but those people have almost no relationship with each other, outside of they have the same pastor, is that really diversity? Or is that just tokenism on a large scale? If you have a wide range of music, worship, and preaching styles, but the pastor and leadership are the only ones who interact often and personally with different people is that diversity? This speaks to the example you gave about members fleeing when the pastor changed. My pastor often says sheep beget sheep, not shepherds.

  • Kem

    I think looking for a sort of "outward" appearance of diversity is asking for a lot. I know you aren't going to turn away any followers, because we have met the quota for a particular race/subgroup. Based on the conversations that I have had with a lot of the people who come to Courageous, we are indeed diverse. We come from different places, have had different upbringings, we have a different talents and abilities etc. If we eliminate the "skin factor" meaning of diversity, we can really see how diverse we are. In Sunday's message, you asked for people to raise their hands if they were from Atlanta: there were only 2 people. I say that IS diversity in the church :)

  • Stephanie

    Hi Larry!__Your statement "Most white Christians have no issue with the color of Jesus' skin," could be based on the fact that Jesus has been portrayed in the mainstream as looking European. Many ethnic minorities have also accepted this vision. It would be easy for White Christians to have "no issue" w/ Jesus' color since that is the "common" image for Him. __Your statement "..most black ministers is that they choose to focus more on fighting racial discrimination than they do showing the community the grace and mercy offered by Christ" is not only exaggerated, but it seems you judge it from a unique perspective. Ethnic minorities who experience racial discrimination and live in an environment they perceive to be oppressive, may experience self -loathing, hardened hearts, and a spirit of fear and hopelessness among others. For black ministers to overlook these experiences would be insensitive and unrealistic. Contrary to your statement, when discussing discrimination, black ministers discuss Christ's unconditional love and His celebration of our differences. Black ministers also encourage living victorious lives regardless of circumstances b/c God is above it all.

  • Rich

    Check out racial reconciliation resources at

    Press on!

  • the uppity negro

    These are some interesting comments.

    So is it that some whites have a problem being pastored by a black minister?

    I think there's a cultural, and class reason why you hear different types of messages from the pulpits of black and white churches respectively. The concerns that affect an all black congregation don't affect a church in an all white community. And I as I said, I'm sure much of the difference is class and economic. Honestly, why would a preacher in an all white suburban church speak about God and finances when the mean income for the church is well over $100K. But at a church in an all black neighborhood, there stands a good chance that you have a substantial portion of the membership making $40K or less.

    In turn, what does it say about the blacks that attend a white church, or a multi-racial church?

  • klreed189

    I think you have a good point here. What bothers me is that like Shaun said, Heaved will be one of the most diverse places and yet it will not be diverse because we are all brothers and sisters which goes way beyond race, gender, etc….
    What will unite us is worship with God (making an obvious point here) and will break down the walls of "diversity in churches"
    I just feel like there is this elephant in the room when it comes to diversity and I think you are pointing to that fat elephant standing in the corner by saying talking about how we are more drawn to our cultural division.

  • klreed189

    I don't want to start a war here, but white christians are some of the most racist people out there.
    We (I am white and throw myself in this at times because I am capable of this) put Jesus in the image of ourselves and expect others to look like that as well.
    Derek Webb has a great line about this:
    "Who's your brother, who's your sister
    You just walked passed him
    I think you missed her
    As we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
    'Cause we married in to a family of immigrants…
    There are two great lies that I've heard:
    "the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die"
    And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
    And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him….
    -Derek Webb King and a Kingdom

    I don't think this was the direction or statement you were trying to make here Larry, but I feel like the view of Jesus or how we picture him can cause great problems as well.

  • bln

    Come on out to California and you will see that diversity is not just black/white. The church I attend is about 60% Hispanic (though not Spanish-speaking; our drummer is an English-speaking Hispanic), with whites, blacks and others making up the rest. Our pastor is black, and most seem from the working-class neighborhood, so the economic and cultural diversity may be less than the racial diversity.

    One interesting thing is that there are several interracial families attending. Perhaps they find this church a place to fit in?

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