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What Programs Are Necessary to Become Ethnically-Diverse?

Friday, September 19, 2008

I had the privilege of participating on a panel discussion at the Ethnic America Network Conference in St. Louis.  One of the questions asked of us was, “Share a brief story how your church intentionally reached out to ethnic minorities and included them in your fellowship.”

 Sunrise Church, Rialto, CA 2000

          Like so many first time visitors I was awed by the ethnic diversity of Sunrise Church in Rialto, CA. My first question to our Senior Pastor Dr. Jay Pankratz was “What programs have you initiated to become so ethnically diverse?”  His answer was, “None”.  The obvious follow up question was, “How then did you accomplish this degree of diversity?” I will never forget his response. He said it so matter-of-fact, “by being relentlessly Biblical.”  He went on to say, “I had no vision for ethnic diversity; but, when I began to study God’s Word, the Lord’s mandates, and I looked at the ethnic diversity of our community I came to the conclusion that we could not be anything less. The key text in the vision of Sunrise Church is Luke 10:25-37.  A man asked Jesus, ‘What do I have to do to have eternal life?’  He responds, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.’  

          There were no books or networks to provide guidance on how to transition a church.  Pastor Jay and other pioneers like him across the country learned by trial and error.  It began by embracing the demographical change of their communities. As the White population of Rialto continued to decrease while the ethnically diverse population increased, Rialto Community Baptist Church had one choice continue to reach a declining population that would result in a declining church congregation or reach out to the entire demographic of the community and increase the potential for the church to grow.

          What began with a vision took six years to become a reality.  Here is what Pastor Jay has said about the process.

I have learned three things about multi-cultural ministry

· It’s Biblical   · It Works    · It’s Hard

  • My first year, we drafted a church vision statement which said, “We will seek to reach all ethnic groups without distinction or separation.”
  • In the next few years, we were surprised to see some from other ethnicities coming and joining our church.
  • As the numbers from other ethnicities increased and some moved into leadership, the criticism increased from all sides.
  • After six years of difficult struggles and limited success, I nearly left the church.
  • We turned the corner during my seventh year when our people began to accept the multi-cultural mix, criticism began to diminish somewhat and the number of minorities grew significantly.
  • During my ninth year, we started being more intentional about including more minorities in all levels of leadership and utilizing more multi-cultural music and promotion.
  • By my eleventh year, half of our Elder Board were minorities.
  • In my twelfth year, we reached a point where we had no ethnic majority in our church or on our pastoral staff.
  • We continue to work on new ways to touch the hurts of our community that we might teach their hearts about the love of Jesus.

         It’s Purpose not Programs that guide a church through the discomfort and criticism leaders face when transitioning their church. It’s a commitment to carrying out the mandates of Christ in an ethnically diverse community. In the words of Pastor Jay Pankratz its being, “relentlessly biblical.”

That’s my opinion, I welcome yours.

Art Lucero

 

 

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