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multi-ethnic churches: the way of the future in Canada?

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Did you know that between right now, January 2021, and the year 2023, Canada aims to welcome more than 1.23 million new permanent residents?

The nations are coming to Canada, friends. Truthfully, they are already here.

Currently, 1/3 of those living in Calgary, AB identify as visible minority and 1/2 of those living in Toronto, ON identify as foreign born. Last year alone (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020) the province of British Columbia welcomed almost 50,000 new immigrants.

Further, if you didn't know, Canada boasts one of the world’s most diverse international student populations with 186 nations represented in 2017. And right now, Canada is home to more than 165 unreached people groups – that’s 165+ distinct groups once inaccessible with the gospel yet now here in Canada, living amongst us, and waiting to be reached with the good news of Jesus.

If the city you call home is anything like mine, it's safe to assume that the people around you are increasingly becoming more and more visibly diverse. The neighbourhood... the grocery stores... the school... your kids' friends... The people you interact with on a daily basis likely look and sound differently than they did even just a handful of years ago.

Ethnic diversity is on the rise all around us in Canada. But is it on the rise in your church? And if not, why not?

This blog, a review of Mark DeYmaz’s 2007 publication, Building A Healthy Multi-ethnic Church, was written to help pastors and church planters think critically about the kinds of churches we lead in the increasingly diverse 21st-century Canada we find ourselves in today.

As I look at the growing diversity around me, I can't help but ask, “How might the Church respond to this shift in our cultural makeup?”

Further, what kind of church is needed to effectively reach the nations around us, welcoming and including them into our faith communities?

How do we go beyond just simply creating language specific services or communities of faith, or integrating said peoples into our way of doing things, but rather, intentionally inviting the God-given uniquenesses and beauty of their cultures to help lead and shape that of our own?

Is this just an ideal? Is this even possible?

I wonder, perhaps with you, what kind of church will thrive in the 21st-century, particularly in our context of an increasingly multicultural Canada?

DeYmaz would argue it is one that is truly multi-ethnic.

Stemming from the author’s personal experience of building an ethnically and economically diverse faith community in Little Rock, Arkansas (what was once the hotbed of racial tensions and segregation in the US), DeYmaz's book seeks to help pastors and planters think critically about the kinds of churches they lead.

DeYmaz begins the book with, what he describes as, the Bible's clear mandate for building a multi-ethnic church. Citing various scripture texts as:

  • Jesus’ desire for oneness amongst all believers in his high priestly prayer in John 17,

  • Peter’s radical call toward the inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel in Acts 10,

  • Luke’s description of the multi-ethnic community of believers in the church at Antioch in Acts, and,

  • Paul’s exhortations for unity to the diverse church community at Ephesus,

DeYmaz convincingly articulates Scripture’s mandate on the subject. To DeYmaz, the intentional building of multi-ethnic churches is not optional for Christian leaders today, but a prescriptive and expected ethos for all.

In other words, if this was the norm of the early church, should it not still be the norm for us today?

That said, DeYmaz is clear that racial reconciliation is not the impetus for such a church. Surely racial reconciliation matters greatly, but it cannot be the church's focal point. Rather, a church committed to building a multi-ethnic environment “must be [primarily] focussed on reconciling men and women to Jesus Christ” (p. xxx). It is only as men and women from every background are being reconciled to God through Christ and made into multiplying, Spirit-filled disciples that this ideal of a multi-ethnic church can and will become a reality.

To this end, DeYmaz is clear that oneness, unity across the vastness of ethnic, economic, gender, and generational lines, and the reconciliation of all humanity back to God and one another, was and is something deeply near the Father’s heart - and so too must it be ours.

Is reconciling all peoples to God through Christ the primary foci of your church? Making disciples of all nations was, is and will always be the Church's mission and mandate.

Something else to ponder… How committed are you to this idea of building a multi-ethnic church? Does your church reflect the diversity of the neighbourhood or community around you? Do you want it to?

The second section of DeYmaz’s book ventures into the practicalities of building a multi-ethnic church through his outlining of seven core commitments.

The following are identified as fundamental practices for every church pursuing a multi-ethnic identity:

  1. Great faith and radical dependency on God

  2. Intentional steps such as prayer, ownership of fears and preconceived notions about people and/or religious groups, and the accommodation of all peoples (who DeYmaz repeatedly refers to as “others”)

  3. The prayerful and purposeful empowerment of diverse leadership in all areas of church life, function and governance

  4. Personally crossing ethnic boundaries in our relationships (as leaders, we must lead by example, and with integrity!)

  5. The ongoing pursuit of cultural intelligence and competencies by all

  6. The sacrifice of self for the sake of accommodation and inclusion of others (it is the adoption of what the Apostle Paul calls the mindset of Christ, who sacrificially humbled himself for the sake of all others, that the church must adopt if she is to succeed in this mandate of ethnic diversity), and,

  7. The mobilization of the saints for both local and global impact across all ethnic barriers

Which of these practices have you employed in your church as a way of fostering ethnic diversity? Which of these might you have neglected?

To DeYmaz, the pursuit of ethnically and economically diverse churches is essential both to our biblical faithfulness and to our outward mission. As DeYmaz asserts, healthy, multi-ethnic churches are the greatest visible sign to the world of the ongoing reconciliatory, redemptive and restorative work of the Father in this broken, sin-marred world.

The world needs to see healthy multi-ethnic churches who love, cooperate with and serve one another, and those around them. How might your church's mission and witness benefit from becoming more ethnically diverse? Might there be new people groups you will become aware of, or gain access to by embracing a multi-ethnic identity?

The final section of the book serves as a trifold case study, journeying with three pastors and church planters as they share their unique yet overlapping experiences of building multi-ethnic congregations across the US.

While the book is written from an American standpoint, I believe that these hands-on personal accounts of building and revitalizing churches toward the biblical mandate of unity across ethnic and economic differences will be encouraging and refreshing, showing the reader that healthy, multi-ethnic churches are not an unachievable New Testament ideal, but a beautiful and desirable reality that is possible.

The nations have and are coming to Canada. How will you respond?

At the very least, why not pick up a copy of DeYmaz's book and wrestle through these questions with him.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Revelation 7:9

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