The Life Center, a Mennonite Brethren church in Lenoir, North Carolina, is becoming what long-time pastor Terry Hunt has yearned for—a healthy, multicultural church.
“When we started looking for new ways to grow and impact our community some 12 years ago, we found that the huge majority of African-Americans in our community were already church-goers,” says Hunt, who is African-American. “So, we began to pray and ask the Lord what to do, and we felt God saying that we needed to take the gospel to people who weren’t like us.”
Hunt, along with The Life Center leaders, began to ask what they needed to do to be able to reach a different culture. They found that to become a multicultural church meant that, for one thing, they could no longer focus solely on the worship style that members of the congregation had grown up with.
“We no longer just use traditional African-American music; we now sing more contemporary music that people listen to on the radio,” Hunt says.
It also meant starting the worship service on time and stopping on time.
“We used to start whenever we felt like it, and sometimes we could go on and on well past normal lunch time,” he says with a chuckle.
When asked what some of the good outcomes have been in becoming more multicultural, Hunt says. “Our church now better reflects the makeup of our community, which makes us more attractive when people come to our church, and they see people of different ethnicities. The mix of different people groups also allows us to go into various ethnic neighborhoods and do outreach, rather than just the African-American part of our community.”
Hunt adds, “Once we got to really know people who were not like us, it changed us for the better, knocking down some of those old walls.”
When asked what advice he has for congregations who would like to change to better reflect the diversity of their communities, Hunt starts with the need to address racism.
“If churches are not currently experiencing a multicultural mix of people, a first step in becoming more diverse is identifying that racism is a sin,” Hunt says. “The church has allowed the culture to shape our views about what our churches should look like. We’ve bought into that lie and we have segregated ourselves.”
Hunt says, “If a church really wants to diversify, it needs to take a strong look at itself to determine if the church is open, welcoming, warm and inviting for people who are not like (them.) Are we willing to make room for people who are not like us? That includes allowing people who are of different ethnicities to be involved in our small groups, worship teams, activities and even leadership roles. Our churches should model what the kingdom of heaven will look like—before we actually get there!”