I’ve spent several weeks exploring the idea of where we are right now in the CGGC, particularly as we anticipate looking forward into the future and discerning where the Lord wants us to go and what He wants us to do as His people. Some of what I share will be from a broader view – where the CGGC reflects what’s going on across the larger evangelical church in North America. At other times, the sense will be much more specific to the CGGC and where we find ourselves in this critical moment.
I grew up in the East Harrison Street Church of God in Charleston, IL, a small university community of about 20,000 people in east-central Illinois. Despite living in a college town, most of my experiences growing up were fairly mono cultural. There wasn’t much diversity in my local school district and I don’t really recall having many friends from other ethnic backgrounds until college or even later in life. Most of my experiences growing up were with other white folks, particularly when it came to my faith and church life.
The Churches of God, General Conference has been largely made up of white followers of Jesus for most of our history. Some of this is due to our rural nature and being located in places that were less diverse than urban centers. Some of this is probably due to our inability or unwillingness to reach out to those who are different than us: we have had multiple congregations in more diverse contexts and still only saw predominantly white congregations in places like Tulsa, OK; Decatur, IL; Fort Wayne, IN; and Harrisburg, PA. The exception to this may be the old Arkansas-Oklahoma conference that was made up of primarily African American congregations.
I’m grateful to God that this reality is changing. It’s changing slowly, but it is changing. We are becoming more diverse as a denomination. We now have Latino congregations in California and Pennsylvania, African American congregations and multi-cultural congregations in several places through out the Midwest, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. We just recently welcomed our first Korean-American congregation into the Midwest Region. We need to continue to change and become more diverse for several reasons:
- It’s a better reflection of the kingdom of God: every tribe, tongue, nation and ethnicity will be represented in the culmination of the kingdom of God and we ought to be working to reflect that reality now.
- We white folks have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters of different ethnicities and nationalities. We are better because of the rich gifts they bring to our body. We lack much when they are not present in our body.
- It allows the church to do the work of racial reconciliation that our culture so desperately needs. We can’t do this work from afar. It’s only when we’re living together, working together and worshipping together that we can begin to do the hard work required in racial reconciliation. It happens face-to-face, knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder.
- It’s a better reflection of our context in the United States. Today, 61% of the population of the U.S. is white, 18% is Latino, 13% is Black and 6% is Asian. Projections for 2055 are as follows: whites will make up 48% of the population, 24% Latino, 14% Asian, and 13% Black. If we’re serious about taking the Gospel to all people, by simple demographics, this will require us to become more diverse as our culture becomes more diverse.
God in His abundant grace has blessed the CGGC over the past 10-15 years in beginning to change our racial diversity. There is more work to be done. I was in rural Eastern Iowa a few weeks ago (think rural – dirt roads rural) and was surprised to learn that the local small town was populated with Burmese refugees who had sought employment at the local meat packing plant. Many of our existing CGGC congregations could help launch Latino works in their communities. Open your eyes and hearts! Is God bringing people to your area who look different than you, speak a different language than you speak, or are of a different ethnicity or nationality than you?
God has started to make us reflect the diversity of His kingdom realized. This is not the time to hang out a “mission accomplished” banner, but it is time to celebrate what God is doing in our midst and to ask what we need to do in order to embrace the future work He has for us. We’ve got a long way to go on this front, but we’re not where we were 20 years ago.
CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 14