The Color of Church

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Even after decades of minority civil rights progress, this continues to be the reality in America today. The Multiracial Congregations Project, led by Michael Emerson, a Rice University sociologist, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no one racial group is more than 80% of the congregation.  Taking that definition as a baseline, less than 4% of all American Christian congregations are multiracial.  Just as in Dr. King’s day, the church continues to be the most segregated institution in our nation.

The Color of Church, by Rodney Woo is a practical and biblically sound treatment of the multiracial reconciliation issue in the American church.  He defines a multiracial congregation as, “a congregation composed of racially diverse believers united by their faith in Christ, who make disciples of all the nations in anticipation of the ultimate racial reunion around the throne of God.”

As pastor of the Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, Woo led his congregation to become one of the few truly multiracial American congregations. The book contends it is God’s will for all churches to move toward becoming multiracial by intentionally reaching across the dividing lines of race and ethnicity.  According to Woo, this biblical mandate is found in Revelation 7:9a.

“After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.”

The goal however, of becoming a multiracial church is not diversity, but biblical reconciliation through the work of Christ, culminating in bringing together all nations, and people into the fellowship of His body.  Racial reconciliation begins with God, and God’s image in all people.  Woo states, “How we treat another created being reflects how we treat our Creator.”  The church, as the Body of Christ, more than any other social group or organization, should celebrate our diversity as a way to bring us together, rather than using it to divide and segregate us into “us” and “them.”

Is it God’s will for all churches to be multiracial?  This is a tough  question.  Many in our denomination celebrate racial diversity, and see nothing wrong with churches composed of believers of different races; but also believe real and meaningful worship occurs best when the races and ethnicities have separate congregations.  Citing practical problems such as language barriers, they insist “optimal church growth” requires a racial, ethnic, and social compatibility between the churched and unchurched community around the church.  I have to admit, this is the position I have held for years.

This book has challenged my thinking, and driven me to the Word of God.  Rodney Woo’s position is both biblical and practical.  In light of Scripture, it is difficult to justify our homogeneous models of church planting and church growth.  Any attempt to do so  ignores a wealth of Scriptural examples and exhortations to reach out and disciple the nations.

The greatest contribution this book makes to the discussion of multiracial reconciliation is found in Chapter 8 where the author presents his “hand model.”  In brief, the “hand model” is way of measuring or gauging where people are when they come to a multiracial congregation. Briefly the model identifies five positions people take:  1) advocates of prejudice, 2) homogeneous advocates, 3) seekers – looking for something different, 4) fully integrated believers, and 5)”missionaries” for the cause of multiracial congregations.  This “model” is a valuable tool to help congregations (and individuals) carefully examine where they fall in the area of crossing racial barriers.

The final section of the book is by far the most practical.  This is true, at least in part, because Pastor Woo has lived and experienced the transformation process from a traditional, homogeneous white congregation to a vibrant multiracial congregation. He relates his church’s journey to become multiracial, and to live out the biblical model of racial reconciliation.   He offers practical advice for those who desire to take a similar path, and deals specifically with the critical issues of worship and leadership in a multiracial setting.

This book is everything the title implies, and more.  I guarantee you will enjoy reading it whether or not you completely agree with the author.

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About Larry Doyle

Larry is the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association. He has served overseas with the International Mission Board (SBC), in Charlotte NC as the Director of International Ministries, and as a pastor in North Carolina and Kentucky. He is married to Rebekah Hill, a native of Greensboro NC, and has two children and three grandchildren.
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