DEMOGRAPHIC CHURCH & How a Church Changed to Match Its Neighborhood

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “In my book ‘Cure for the Common Church’ I advocate growing more ‘geographic churches,’ i.e. churches whose ethnicity changes to mirror the community’s ethnic changes. I’ve witnessed this at Kentwood Community Church (MI) lead by colleagues Wayne Schmidt and now Kyle Ray. Read this article by my friend Warren Bird for another helpful example of how to grow a ‘geographic church’. Then check out my book with Mark DeYmaz for even more examples.”

By Warren Bird, LeadNet, 8/2/15.

Patrick Kelley has a dream—what he calls his “delusion of grandeur” for churches—that one day, ethnic diversity will be the norm in American congregations, and that Senior Pastor Patrick Kelleyfollowers of Christ will erase what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “most segregated hour in Christian America.”

“It’s been 50 years since Dr. King said that,” says Patrick, senior pastor of River Pointe Church in the Houston area. “It’s still just the beginning, but I think we’re living in this post-segregation age where people aren’t just looking for the black church, the white church, or the Hispanic church. I think they’re looking for an effective church where they meet Christ and get help for their spiritual needs.”

PHOTO AT LEFT: Patrick started asking if he is “too white” in an ad campaign for River Pointe Church — and it’s working. The church continues to grow more and become more diverse. See also this .

Patrick is seeing his dream come true at River Pointe, a multisite church of 5,000 people located in one of the most ethnically diverse counties (Fort Bend County, TX) in the United States.

But River Pointe is in the small minority of U.S. churches—only 8%—that are considered multiethnic (although the larger the attendance, the moremultiethnic it is likely to be, according to research by Michael Emerson). While most churches in America are comprised of 80% of people being from one race, only 68% of River Pointe is white, and the rest is a multiethnic mix.

“People have said that our county is what America will look like in 50 years—or less,” says Patrick. “The church is going to have to figure out how to reach a population that looks like that. And it’s not just predominantly white churches that need this transition.”

Diversity Wasn’t the Goal

Patrick certainly didn’t start out to build one of the most ethnically diverse churches in the country when he moved to Houston 18 years ago—and he wouldn’t suggest that any church make that its goal.

“This community is integrated–no black section, white section or Latino section,” he says. “Yet there was not a church that was multiracial, including ours. I didn’t come to start a racially diverse church, but that’s the neighborhood we need to reach. If we can’t do it here in this country, I’m just not sure it can be done.

“It’s not a goal of River Pointe to be diverse, but to help all people groups find a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. We have to figure out how to be all things to all men in order to win some.”

Patrick admits it had to start with him. It started innocently enough, with the Kelley children developing friendships with kids of varied ethnicities. “It’s funny how kids don’t see color, isn’t it? I looked at my own life and realized, all my friends are lily white,” Patrick says. “That had to change.”

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