Two Kinds of Churches, and a Third

Eddie Dhanpat is starting Mosaic City Church in Queens, New York. You can put a little something in their offering plate through the wonders of the internet

New York City is a hub for diversity. You would expect that in a very diverse context you would find very diverse churches, but this is simply not the case. What I have seen instead is churches that come in two varieties. 

The first is a church that’s assimilated to the mainstream culture. This church assumes that the “best way” to do church is to conform to mainstream Evangelical culture, which happens to be white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Implicit in its thinking is that there is always a “right” way to handle things like resolving conflict or making decisions. The challenge for these churches is that although they may be racially diverse, the mainstream machine tends to filter out the cultural uniqueness of its people.    

The second variety is ethnocentric churches. The attitude of these churches is “our way is the best way” to do church. Or at least, if there is a “best way,” it’s surely not assimilating to the mainstream culture. So these churches choose their preferred cultural expression and build church around it. These “culturally relativistic” churches will often double as the cultural centers for their neighborhoods. It is often times hard to see where the preferred culture ends and the church begins. The challenge for these churches is their inability to revitalize themselves when the neighborhood changes or the second generation comes of age. So for example, the immigrant Chinese church will have a hard time reinventing itself when either the neighborhood demographics change or when the second generation children start to feel a dissonance with their parents’ culture. This is a serious problem for immigrant churches in urban settings.

Although these two kinds of churches are helpful and needed, I believe they fall short of the vision of Revelation 7. I don’t believe that when every tribe tongue and nation is worshipping God, each will have their own roped-off section. The Latinos go here, the Africans go there, or the Chinese speaking folks goes here, and the French speaking folks go there. If this is the case, then both ethnocentric churches and assimilated churches must evolve into a truly multiethnic church. This is the challenge of churches in NYC and I am willing to venture that this will be the challenge of other major cities as diversity matures.