This article was originally published on apu.edu.
It’s Sunday morning and the Monrovia High School auditorium fills up rapidly. Hundreds of people find their seats as the worship service begins. Traditional gospel music fills the air, followed by a contemporary Hillsong tune. With one glance around the room, the musical juxtaposition makes perfect sense. Fellowship Monrovia’s congregation is comprised of people from different cultures, ages, and racial backgrounds. While historically each of these people groups would attend a separate church and sing their own style of music, today, Fellowship is part of a growing national trend of diverse churches.
A recent Christianity Today article featured a new study by researchers at Baylor University, which found that one in five American Christians now belongs to a multiethnic church. According to the findings, the number of these churches tripled between 1998 and 2012. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches experienced the biggest increase.
Surrounded by the multicultural landscape that makes up Southern California, Fellowship Monrovia is led by senior pastor Albert Tate, who also serves as an Azusa Pacific University board member. Mark Chase, head of life groups for Fellowship, works alongside Tate, and said the pastoral staff believes it is crucial for the church to reflect the surrounding communities it serves.
“Fellowship is leading the way,” said Chase. “We are truly a multiethnic, intergenerational church and we make sure that our worship and preaching styles are relevant to our members.” Chase believes this intentionality reminds church goers of the imago dei. “Whenever you see yourself, your culture, represented on stage or in the congregation, it helps you connect with God. You feel like ‘I too am created in the image of God.’ That's a central doctrine of Christianity,” he said.
APU campus pastor, Ta'Tyana Leonard agrees. “Being a minority, I've longed to see myself throughout scripture. I zone in on stories like the good Samaritan because I identify with them. As a minority Christian in American culture, I've tried so hard to find my place within the church,” she said. Leonard attends Mission Ebenezer Family Church in Carson. “My husband and I belong to a multiethnic church because we want to invite our friends from all over the world to come to our church and feel welcome. We thought it would be beneficial for our kids to have friends from different backgrounds as well.”
Leonard points to the origins of the church, and how the gentiles and Jews were trying to reconcile. “Before he ascends, Jesus gives the Great Commission, 'Therefore go out and make disciples of all the world,' (Matthew 28:19). The Church is based on different cultures coming together in Christ.” Leonard said that Ephesians chapter two is also imperative for understanding the church’s purpose, including evangelizing and gathering. Ephesians 2:19 says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
Chase said this passage created a mandate for racial reconciliation. “Paul talks about how God reconciled the world back to himself through Christ. He tore down the dividing wall and curtain that stood between us. We no longer have race as our primary identifier, our race and ethnicity don’t go away, but as followers of Jesus we have a new primary identifier that has the power to bond us together, Christ.”
APU's campus pastors and the Office of Chapel Programs, offers events throughout the year to facilitate understanding and unity among the university community, including “Uncommon Conversations”. People gather together to talk about difficult topics including those related to race. Leonard said these discussion can mark the beginning of a reconciliation journey, which should continue at church. “If you think about the body of Christ, we have all these parts made up of people from different nations. We need each other.The body cannot function properly without all the parts working together,” she said.
Michael Mata, director of the M.A. in Transformational Urban Leadership program, affirmed that growth among multiethnic churches is a necessity. “This change is vital for churches to be a center of healing, hope, and cultivating a deep relationship with God. Our seminaries need to strive to create a multicultural experience so we can worship together,” he said.
Mata teaches at APU's Los Angeles Regional Site. He lives and attends church in Koreatown, where he serves as part of the pastoral team. His church, Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene, is a perfect example of the trend. “My church originally started out as an English speaking church. Then we had a Korean language ministry form their own congregation, and then Spanish and Filipino. Slowly, we realized that we should all come together. For special services we gather to worship as one body, a foretaste of heaven to come,” Mata said. “We embrace our differences.”