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Welcoming and Inclusive Worship

Here, we begin a new series to explore how to facilitate disparate cultures’ coming together in communal worship for the sake of justice and reconciliation.

How can predominantly white Christian churches and organizations become safer places of worship for people of color? Many Christians truly have a desire to be more inclusive. Yet time and again, a brave POC will come to worship, and then never come back. This scenario plays out in bible studies, fellowship, and churches all over the country. So what is going on?

Several things to consider:

1) Congregational Buy-In. Often, though there are several strong leaders that are wholly committed to making racial reconciliation a priority, it can be hard to get large-scale buy-in from the rest of the members. Inclusively requires a broad-based intentionality that does not waver when life gets busy, or when awkward moments arise. This takes time, commitment and continued education for everyone involved.

2) Leadership reflective of multicultural affirmation. Even if some of the pastoral staff and board members are of different backgrounds, often head pastors and worship leaders continue to be white. We must be attentive to the messages we portray through our leadership. Who is ultimately in charge and who is subordinated? 

3) Affirmation, not appropriation/ homogenization. Across the country there is an emerging effort to incorporate various traditions into the worship service. Unfortunately, the “diversity” songs are sometimes simply appropriated into the established style of the church, without honoring the culture from which they came. It’s a good step in the right direction, but ultimately leaves the same homogeneous impression to a new visitor.

4) Intentionality at the front door. Being the newbie is always going to feel awkward, but it is even more challenging when you are very clearly the only person of your race in the room. Churches really do work hard to be welcoming, but the challenge is that for every five new people that get greeted, the one that slips by will never forget it. When those in the majority are more comfortable around folks that are similar to us, it is the racial ‘others’ that are disproportionately left un-greeted. We must double and re-double our efforts to ensure that this NEVER happens.

5) Stand for justice and reconciliation in the broader community. Sometimes in our efforts to increase the diversity of our own group we lose sight of the greater goal. Too often, a token black member serves to soothe the guilt of homogeneous-ness, letting us feel diverse without the hard work that reconciliation requires. We may welcome someone when they are on our own turf,  but if we do not engage with each other for change and justice in the ‘real world,’ then our diversity was just for show.

6) Ethnicity-specific ministries and fellowship. Understanding one’s own identity in Christ and in the context of one’s ethnicity is a central part of the process of spiritual growth (including for those in the majority position). It can also be exhausting to maintain an attitude of worship when you feel you are sticking out from the crowd. When it comes to worshiping God, sometimes it is helpful to remove that burden when we can. Thus, those in the racial majority must never belittle, undermine, or compete against ethnic-specific ministries. But rather, we must support, encourage, and uplift (without forcing our presence, uninvited). Bring to the table the any extra resources and influence that a position of power in a racialized world may provide.

If we let diversity become a chore, a checklist, that attitude will be painfully obvious to the world. We cannot forget that racial justice reconciliation is of the utmost importance to our ministry and to our witness. How powerful it could be to show the world an image Christian unity, rather than a lips service to clichés!


I invite readers to share your personal experiences, frustrations, and suggestions.

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Katelin Hansen is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online forum to facilitate justice and understanding across racial divides. BTSF explores how Christianity's often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, BTSF strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective Follow more conversations at http://bytheirstrangefruit.com