In 2023, we are going to see churches strive toward racial reconciliation and inclusivity more than ever before. Because of that, it is important for my fellow “church leaders and goers”, to consider strategies that actually promote multi-ethnic spaces and also remain authentic to their cultural DNA. The goal of multi-ethnic churches has historically been to create an environment where all people can feel accepted, regardless of race or ethnicity. From my perspective as a whole, this has not often included the input and needs of Black congregants. From my perspective, here are some effective ways to make sure that Black congregants feel welcomed and included in multi-ethnic churches.
Everything Starts With Leadership
Having diversity amongst church leadership roles is one of the best ways to ensure that all congregants feel included and respected. Have leaders who understand what it takes to make a church welcoming to all congregants. This means having church staff who are diverse in terms of race, gender identity, class background, age, etc., as well as having programming that acknowledges and celebrates the various backgrounds represented in the church. Multi-ethnic churches should actively seek out individuals from different backgrounds for leadership roles such as pastors, youth ministers, and worship leaders (but please don’t only have a person of color lead worship and sing predominately all white songs except during black history month). Not only does this show that the congregation values diversity, but it also provides an example of the intentionality it takes to create an inclusive atmosphere.
Change The Language Used By Church Leaders
One way that churches can make their services more inclusive of Black congregants is by changing the language used by church leaders. Many churches still use language that is exclusive or offensive to some people, and this should be avoided at all costs. I repeat this should be avoided at all costs! For example, if a church leader refers to a black or brown person as “colored” or “non-white”, then they are not only excluding the group they are referring to but also perpetuating a system of oppression. Yes, I said it, oppression. We can’t act like it doesn’t exist in the walls of the church too. Instead, churches need to use language that is respectful and affirming of all people regardless of race or ethnicity. You do this by spending time with people and learning how to speak the language of your people. And if you choose not to, then you probably won’t see that one black and brown visitor again.
Create A Welcoming Environment
The first step towards inclusivity is creating a welcoming environment for all people. This means everything from the physical space itself—is it bright and inviting?—to the way people are greeted when they walk through the doors. Most black folks with southern roots were raised to make sure that they speak when they see someone. It lets people know that you are seen and not some invisible being that isn’t important. Churches need to create an atmosphere where everyone feels like they belong regardless of their background or beliefs. This can be accomplished through small gestures such as introducing newcomers during service announcements; recognizing birthdays and anniversaries; creating a sense of hospitality by providing refreshments (who doesn’t love coffee before church and snacks after church?); hosting regular social events; and offering childcare options (as a parent, this is huge. I want to know my kids are safe and also loved by a place I’m going to be spending time at frequently); and making sure there are no barriers when it comes to accessing materials, readings, or any information that may be referenced during the service. These small actions will show all congregants that they are valued members of the community and that their presence matters in the larger scheme of things.
Actually Create A Safe Space
Another way that churches can make their services more inclusive for Black congregants is by creating a safe space for everyone who attends. Let me just say this: just because you say it’s a safe space, that doesn’t mean that it actually is a safe space. Safe spaces are created after building trust, spending time, and allowing some exchanges of experience and engagement. This means having conversations about racism and discrimination without judgment or blame, creating policies and procedures that protect people from discrimination based on race or ethnicity (internally and externally), and providing resources for those who may need them (such as mental health professionals, marriage counselors, grief counselors, and economic resources). Additionally, it means recognizing when someone’s feelings have been hurt due to racism or discrimination and taking action to ensure it does not happen again. When a church creates a safe environment where everyone feels respected and valued, it will go a long way toward making its services more inviting and welcoming for all members—not just those who identify as white or non-Black.
Engage With The Community
Multi-ethnic churches should also strive to engage with the local community regularly. This includes participating in community events such as food drives, volunteering at local shelters, or hosting discussion panels on topics relevant to the area. By actively engaging with the community, multi-ethnic churches can demonstrate their commitment to being part of the neighborhood and open up opportunities for further inclusion of Black members. By engaging with the community, multi-ethnic churches can form relationships and connections which will foster trust and understanding between different groups of people. Furthermore, it creates a platform for dialogue and exchange, allowing members to share their perspectives on faith and life. This helps break down barriers that have been established due to past issues (related to segregation, gentrification, or white-savior complex), which can lead to greater unity and cohesion within the community. Multi-ethnic churches can also use these opportunities to educate their members on important issues, such as racism, redlining, police brutality, and inequities in the local area or country. Finally, they can collaborate with other like-minded organizations (community partners, elected officials, and business leaders) in order to advocate for social justice and work towards a more equitable society. By taking an active role in their local community, multi-ethnic churches can ensure a more inclusive environment for all of its members.
Listen To Black Congregants’ Feedback And Ideas
One of the most important things a multi-ethnic church can do is listen carefully to what their Black congregants have to say about their experience at the church. Are there any aspects of church life that they find unappealing? Are there any particular programs they would like to see implemented? Listening attentively to these kinds of feedback shows respect and creates an environment where everyone feels heard and valued. In addition to listening, multiethnic churches should also strive to act on the feedback they receive. This could be as simple as engaging with Black congregants to create tangible solutions for areas where their needs are not being met. By taking the steps required to implement these solutions and ensure that Black congregants feel seen and heard, multi-ethnic churches can create a more inclusive environment that is better suited to meeting their diverse needs. Furthermore, such a unified approach will help foster unity among all members of the congregation, regardless of race or background. Ultimately, this will make for a healthier and more vibrant faith community and prevent black and brown voices from feeling drowned out by the larger non-black congregants.
For multi-ethnic churches to be truly successful at creating an inclusive space for Black congregants (and other minorities), it requires dedication from both leadership and members alike. Making a multi-ethnic church truly inclusive takes work and dedication, but I believe it is worth it to create a space where everyone feels welcome and respected regardless of background or ethnicity. Creating an inclusive space in a multi-ethnic church requires open communication and collaboration between people of all backgrounds. Leaders must remain open to feedback from their members, be willing to challenge their own assumptions, and commit to educating themselves on the unique needs of all groups.
Members must also be willing to accept others for who they are, embrace diversity in culture, language, and beliefs, and be ready to grow together as a unified congregation. A commitment from both leadership and members is essential if a church wants to create a truly inclusive environment where everyone feels accepted and respected. With this dedication, multi-ethnic churches can become places of real transformation—where individuals of different racial backgrounds learn to love one another with an authentic understanding of unity in Christ. With this understanding, multi-ethnic churches can become powerful models of how people from different backgrounds and experiences can work together to make the world a better place. Ultimately, creating an inclusive multi-ethnic church should be our goal so we can strengthen communities everywhere!