This article first appeared in the Great Commission Research Journal, vol. 6, issue 1, summer 2016 (La Mirada, CA: Cook School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, 2014) and is used by permission.
FIVE TYPES OF MULTICULTURAL CHURCHES: A New Paradigm Evaluated and Differentiated
Author: Bob Whitesel, D.Min. Ph.D.
Professor of Missional Leadership Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University
This article puts forth a comprehensive and reconciliation-based paradigm through which to view multicultural congregations as one of five models or types. It updates the historical categories of Sanchez, adds contemporary models and then evaluates each through a 10-point grid of: nomenclature, mode of growth, relationships, pluses, minuses, degree of difficulty, creator complex, redistribution, relocation and reconciliation. The five models are: 1) the asset sharing Multicultural Alliance, 2) the collaborative Multicultural Partnership, 3) the asymmetrical Mother-Daughter model, 4) the popular Blended approach and 5) the Cultural Assimilation model. The result is a comprehensive five-model paradigm that includes an assessment of each model’s potential for spiritual and intercultural reconciliation.
The following is excerpted and reedited from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013).
This article assesses the strengths and weaknesses of different multicultural church models. Daniel Sanchez offered some of the earliest depictions of such models, but 35 years later they beg to be updated. And despite the proliferation of books on the topic, no significant updating or additions to Sanchez’s categories have been offered other than the Sider et. al. partnership model.
In addition, there is a vibrant discussion today regarding how John Perkins’ intercultural goals of redistribution, relocation and reconciliation are being addressed by churches. Therefore, it can be helpful to assess how well different models of multicultural congregations are addressing each of Perkins’ intercultural reconciliation goals.
The following five models of multicultural congregations suggest a new and contemporized paradigm. I will analyze each through a 10-point grid of: nomenclature, mode of growth, relationships, pluses, minuses, degree of difficulty, creator complex, redistribution, relocation and reconciliation.
Starting With Goals: Spiritual And Cultural Reconciliation
Sociologists have long known that people of a dominant culture will try, sometimes even subconsciously, to make over people from an emerging culture into their own image. C. Peter Wagner called this the “creator complex” and said, “Deep in the heart of man, even in missionaries, lurks that ‘creator complex’ by which he delights in making other people over in his own image.” And so, when humans encounter different customs, the creator complex in us wants us to view their customs as abnormal and change them to be more in keeping with our traditions.
The creator complex arises because it seems easier and quicker to assimilate a culture and make it look like us, than to try and sift out any impurities that run counter to the message of Christ. But in the words of missiologist Charles Kraft, every culture is “corrupt, but convertible.” To convert any culture thus entails sifting out elements that run counter to Christ’s Good News while retaining elements that affirm it. Eddie Gibbs calls this “sifting a culture,” drawing from the image of a colander or strainer that sifts out impurities in food.
So what then is the goal for our filtering of cultures? Let us return to Charles Kraft’s reminder, that every culture is “corrupt, but convertible.” Our purpose thus becomes to assist God in His quest to convert or transform a culture. Such transformation begins by reconnecting people to their loving heavenly father. This has been called the ministry of reconciliation, which Paul described in 2 Cor. 5:11, 17-18.
John Perkins suggests that today’s divided world needs churches that will foster both spiritual reconciliation and physical reconciliation. This would fulfill Jesus’ prayer that His children would be united as the Father and Son are united (John 17:20). To describe this goal, Perkins employed 3 Rs:
- Redistribution (sharing money from wealthier cultures with struggling cultures),
- Relocation (relocating ministry to needy areas) and
- Reconciliation (physical and spiritual reconciliation, first between humans and their heavenly Father, and then between humans).
Among today’s emerging generations I am seeing young people more attune to this need for reconciliation between people of different cultures. Today’s young people have been born into a very divided world of politics, economics and cultural clashes. Yet, across the nation I have observed churches lead by these young leaders that refuse to limit themselves to just spiritual reconciliation, but also see maturity in Christ as advancing cultural reconciliation. I agree with Brenda Salter McNeil who sees the emergence of a reconciliation generation, who in addition to a spiritual reconciliation, sees “a host of people from various tribes, nations, and ethnicities who are Kingdom people called to do the work of racial reconciliation.”
And so, to bring about both spiritual and cultural reconciliation, we need models that describe churches where people of differing cultures are not only reconnecting with their heavenly Father, but also who reconnecting with one another. A multicultural church may provide the best locale. To understand a multicultural church, let us look at five models.
5 Models of Multicultural Churches
To picture the variety of multicultural congregations I have suggested the following five categories. In each category I have codified examples from many authors, along with my own case-study research to present a clearer picture of the multicultural options and the plusses and minuses of each approach.
The Multicultural Alliance Church
This church is an alliance of several culturally different sub-congregations. Daniel Sanchez describes it as one church “comprised of several congregations in which the autonomy of each congregation is preserved and the resources of the congregations are combined to present a strong evangelistic ministry.” The different cultures thus form an alliance by joining together as one religious organization in which they equally:
- Share leadership duties (i.e. leadership boards are integrated),
- Share assets (it is only one nonprofit 501c3 organization)
- Offer separate worship expressions (to connect with more cultures)
- Offer blended worship expressions (to create unity).
Offering multiple worship options allows the Multicultural Alliance Church to reach out and connect with several different cultures simultaneously. And a regular blending of traditions in a unity service creates unity amid this diversity. A weekly format of a multicultural alliance church with five sub-congregations could look like this: