Why “Multi-Generational” & “Multi-Ethnic” Churches Are More Often Segregated

Jul 23, 2018 | Blog, Churches

by Tony Morgan

This article is originally posted at Tony Morgan Live. It has been reposted here with permission.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously described Sunday morning at eleven o’clock as the “most segregated hour of Christian America.” Regrettably, it’s nearly 60 years later and not much has changed.

Ironically, it’s the churches that pride themselves on being multi-generational and multi-ethnic that oftentimes are still the most segregated churches. They wouldn’t view themselves like that, but let me give you a few different examples.

The Church with Separate Congregations for Different Languages

Many churches have separate congregations that speak Spanish, Korean and English as examples. Not only do they have separate worship services, but almost every aspect of the ministry ends up being segregated other than the church building where the congregations all meet.

It’s 2018. Technology exists (here’s one example) for a fraction of the cost of hiring a separate staff team or interpreters so that churches don’t have to have separate congregations for every language represented in the church. It’s now possible for churches to be multilingual and fully integrated.

The Church with Separate Student Worship on Sunday Morning

I’ve seen churches that acknowledge that their Sunday morning worship and teaching isn’t attractive to high school students, so they offer a separate worship service for the students. My sense is this is one of the primary contributing factors to students leaving the church after they graduate from high school.

For four years, they’ve been trained to appreciate a separate worship experience with the style of music they appreciate and teaching relevant to their lives, and then when they graduate we assume somehow that they’re going to sacrifice their style of music and relevant teaching to worship with older adults. We’re setting them up for defeat. We’re also encouraging segregation in our churches.

Instead, many churches are shifting to integrated worship experiences for adults and high school (and even middle school) students on Sunday mornings. They still commonly have gatherings specifically designed for students at another time during the week, but Sunday offers the same opportunity for students as adults—the chance to attend a service and serve in a service.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s probably the serving part on Sundays that’s most likely going to keep students connected to church after they graduate. The other indirect benefit of having students in the adult service is that it helps services stay more relevant to younger adults. That’s important because our data confirms that older adults are far more likely to attend services designed for younger adults than younger adults are likely to attend services designed for older adults. I know. I want my kids to love my music, too. But I’d rather they love Jesus than my music.

The Church with Multiple Styles of Worship Services

Let’s just call it what it is. By multiple styles of worship services, it’s rarely about the teaching. Generally the different services still have the same message, though the teacher might be wearing a different outfit. The key difference is the music.

We’ve seen every label you might imagine to distinguish the music from traditional to blended to contemporary to modern and everything in between. And some churches are trying to offer every one of them. Unfortunately, as I mentioned recently in an article highlighting what we’re learning from the quarterly Unstuck Church Report, declining churches are twice as likely to be offering multiple styles of worship. 

When churches offer multiple styles of worship, they lose their opportunity to be truly multi-generational churches. Instead, we tend to find primarily young adults in the modern worship services, middle-age adults in the contemporary worship services and seniors in the traditional worship services. That’s not a multi-generational church. That’s a segregated church.

Not only that, the next steps beyond the weekend services are typically also segregated by age. In churches that have different styles of worship, they often have different Sunday School classes for different age groups. Though there’s a church full of people who could be mentoring and influencing the next generation, every connection they have to the church is spent with people of their same generation.

Why is this so critical for the church?

For one thing, I think the church should be diverse because it’s a reflection of God’s Kingdom. We were called to make disciples of all nations and Heaven is going to be a very diverse place.

Secondly, I refuse to give up on my kids’ and grandkids’ generations. And what we know is this: The next generations are much more diverse. Because of that, homogeneous worship experiences are not going to be appealing to them. They are not going to embrace segregated churches.

The world has changed. We can’t separate people by language, ethnicity and age in the future and expect our kids and grandkids are going to engage. It won’t happen.

So here’s the question I have for you.

Do you claim to be a multi-ethnic or multi-generational church? If so, are you really? Or are you one very segregated church meeting in the same building?

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