Why is the UK church racially divided?

Why is the UK church racially divided?

It was Martin Luther King who commented that at 11 o’clock on sunday morning America is most divided. That was back in the 1963 but it feels that things don’t seem to have moved on very far. At a time when the UK is wrestling with racism in the police force, on the football pitch and in political groups like the BNP. It’s time for the church to start living up to its calling to be the place where race, class, gender and abilities are relativised by the grace of God. As Paul put it:

” So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ” Galatians 3:26-27

As i travel around the UK I am seeing an amazing growth in ethnic churches but little integration, very few ethnically diverse churches, very few churches where our leadership teams are mixed, our worship style is multicultural or our impact in our communities cutting across ethnic divides. I am happy to put right if I have misread the situation, but the more people I talk to about this the more I am convinced that we are still as divided as ever on racial lines. Pastor Agu from Jesus House recently said in an interview with Christianity magazine that he believes in the future there will be no “Black majority churches” but instead multicultural churches. So what is stopping us at the moment from making this a reality at the moment?

Let me know what you think by taking part in the poll below or adding a comment – looking forward to hearing from you.



20 thoughts on “Why is the UK church racially divided?

  1. Judith Marlow says:

    I’ve got slightly similar thoughts about the social make-up of churches – most are aimed at educated people who can read well and concentrate, so that’s who we get, so that’s why we think offering stuff that’s only suitable for people who can read well and concentrate is ok.

    1. That’s another interesting issue, but I think the difference there is that being able to read and concentrate are positive skills that can be learned. Historically a lot of the impetus for education has come from Christians wanting to make sure people have the ability to read and understand the Bible for themselves.

      We mustn’t assume that people can read well and concentrate for long periods of time, and must reach out and be accessible to people of all abilities. But we should also encourage literacy in a broad sense, and shouldn’t be ashamed to encourage reading, listening to longer sermons and so on.

      As far as racial division goes, I think it’s usually a general cluelessness about cultural differences, along with an attachment to The Way We’ve Always Done Things(tm).

      But the broader problem is that homogeneous congregations are the inevitable outcome of the consumer culture of which we are a part. Within that culture, our natural tendency is to find the church that most closely fits their preferred culture, style, theology and so on, over being together in local community. Racial division is just one particularly ugly outcome of this trend. Unless we repent of individualism and consumerism, then the church will continue to fragment into homogeneous tribes.

  2. Mark Meynell says:

    It’s a challenging question.

    But come to All Souls. You won’t find a perfect church by any stretch of the imagination, nor a model church for others to replicate crudely. But you will certainly find a very diverse church with ca 65 nationalities in the congregation and a reasonably diverse staff team with around 10 nationalities.

    I say this not to boast at all, only to encourage. For it is possible as well as vital… It’s hard work to make it work, of course, but it’s also a thrill and a joy.

  3. Hannah says:

    My church is very racially diverse and the congregation is made up of many, many nationalities, which is great, but I do think there are several issues that come into play here. In the majority of small UK towns, such as the one I grew up in, there is still little racial diversity, so people might not see it as an issue. Then in larger towns and cities where this is not the case, as you mentioned in the poll above there can be quite a blinkered attitude to ‘our way of doing things’ which doesn’t allow for sensitivity towards other cultural preferences and styles of worship.

  4. Jordan says:

    You might be interested to read recent books by Gerardo Marti, including Worship across the Racial Divide (Oxford, 2012) and Mosaic of Believers (Indiana, 2009).

  5. krishkandiah says:

    thanks jordan – looking forward to checking those books out – blessings krish

  6. Jon Kuhrt says:

    Hi Krish – thanks for raising this issue. My church, Streatham Baptist is very racially diverse – last year one of the ministers asked one person from different racial backgrounds to come to the front – so we had one British person, one Nigerian etc and we had over 40 people standing at the front. That was pretty much the sermon and it was a brilliant point.

    So I would say that in Streatham, our church at 11am tomorrow will be pretty much the MOST inclusive place in our local community.

    I think what is needed is strong, inclusive leadership which is aware of the issues of the status quo and is prepared to challenge them. Paul’s book to the Romans is pretty much about this issue – how Jews and Gentiles unify in the church – and it needs to be drawn out in the preaching more and be intentionally worked towards.

  7. Paul Burton says:

    It’s not racially divided it’s culturally divided.

    We all worship in Churches that are culturally relevant to who we are.

    The Cultural difference between many ethnic groups is as great as the difference between High Anglican’s and the Pentecostal’s. Yet no one seeks to permanently join these worshipers.

    If everyone was forced together into culturally watered down meetings I think the diversity in the Church community would be quickly lost.

    I think it’s great to have events where cultures and denominations come together and worship but this can’t be a basis for everyday church as it just doesn’t work.

    I think wherever you have a large cultural group all living in the same area they will tend to worship together, whether that culture is ethnic, social or just a preference of worship style. Race is a very fashionable card to play but it’s not the whole story.

    You say that “I am convinced that we are still as divided as ever on racial lines.”

    I disagree, the division is cultural which is much deeper than simple out dated discrimination and shouldn’t necessarily be seen negatively.

    1. bert han says:

      Good comment and i totally agree.

      Racial diversity is a bit of a misnomer. I often feel like it’s more about making the church feel better about having people of different ethnicities in the congregation.

      Is a racially diverse church one that worships in a completely western way? Or has a “cultural worship evening” where other cultures are paraded around?

      The real question is, why don’t people of other and different ethnicities feel welcome in a primarily singular cultural church. And it’s the same reason why other groups of different cultures and subcultures don’t come to church. It’s because when they get there, it’s like nobody cares about them, or else they’re treated as social anomalies.

  8. Ben Carswell says:

    Interesting comments Krish – this morning at church here in NZ, I looked at the children as a kids’ story was told & was encouraged to see probably 1/3 of them were from non-white European ethnic backgrounds.

    Part of the problem seems to be that in many parts as a global church we have emphasised racial divides with our own cultural assumptions of the ethnic make-up of local churches. In Britain, it strikes me the situation is often class-related too. For the church to truly be the body, we need a multi-racial, multi-class group of people. Actually, the places where I have seen growth in the UK have sought to do this.

    Much of the battle is surely to keep asking the question, agitating as to why churches don’t reflect the ethnic/class make-up of their area & persist until things change. You’re doing a good work in this Krish & you’re well placed to do so – thanks!

  9. Joanne Barlow says:

    Visited a church in Sheffield on Good Friday which I was pleased to say was very racially diverse. It even looked like they were doing simultaneous translation into Farsi.

    Mostly I think it boils down to people, including Christians, being comfortable with what they know. Surely the hard part is getting the first few racially different people to be committed to a majority “other” congregation and feel they belong.

    As white Brit I consciously spent a couple of years attending a Black Majority Church, after returning to the UK from overseas. Some good friends there, great people, but probably never really felt like I belonged. That might be partly due to cultural style and being more Pentecostal than perhaps I’d naturally be at home with. Several members wanted to be more diverse and representative of the community they lived in but over several years it hadn’t really happened.

    Question is how important should the “feeling” of belonging be? Living and loving cross-culturally should be part of demonstrating our oneness in Christ, but it’s not as easy and I suspect most of us prefer the easier life.

  10. Pat Joy says:

    A lot of the time I think people see themselves as on the outside looking in, without really understanding. When in England I used to attend a church run by a West Indian pastor and his wife, with his daughter and quite a few other African and West Indians as elders, although they did, have some white elders. Many outsiders saw it as a ‘black’ church, although we’re white. The pastor became ill and had to retire and the same church is now run by a white pastor and his wife. I’ve heard people refer to it as a ‘white’ church (not often admittedly), but I think sometimes it’s how people percieve things. Most of the long time members are still there, both black and white (plus, of course, newer members). I think sometimes a big problem is that people see a church as it’s leader (although admittedly a leader does usually make the individual church), not by the whole.

  11. Patrick Gillan says:

    I have a lot of concerns about black churches. Firstly they are predominantly homophobic. Second they are extreme in their worship and preaching erratic shouting. Some claim healing for illnesses such as aids and some have encouraged their HIV members to stop taking their meds and all have died. We also hear in the news about the murder of children suspected of witchcraft. These appear to the growing Nigerian Churches who give us grave cause for concern. They are so culturally different from our own way of worship that to try and integrate the two would be a complete waste of time and it’s not really what we want.

    1. krishkandiah says:

      Patrick thanks for posting, but I am a bit worried about the sweeping statements in your post. Many black majority churches are incredibly gracious in the area of sexuality, the vast majority condemn the witchcraft practiced by cults and the HIV case you mention is from a lunatic fringe rather than the mainstream evangelical churches. Black Majority Churches are very diverse – it would be foolish to write them all off because of the minority. It would be the same as me, as an asian, writing off “white churches” because of the Klu Klux Klan.

  12. Kalyan says:

    While many Churches are racially diverse, I wonder whether the racial divide (where seen) is the result of a century of mission practice of reaching well-defined “people groups”.

    Reaching people groups with the gospel in the context of their language, culture, customs, idioms and metaphors is a successful strategy for introducing the gospel. Your observation Kish, opens the issue of whether mission finds its logical conclusion in simply reaching people groups with the gospel, or if indeed a Christian’s journey might benefit from a conscious strategy of further and outward integration.

    There is considerable merit in “people-group” strategies and I would not wish to down play this, but when immigration permits the movement of people who have accepted the gospel in their own contexts, perhaps Galatians 3:26-27 needs to be a conscious strategy of integration.

    1. krishkandiah says:

      You are right – the emphasis on people groups has its place missiologically, but when we start trying to target homogenous unit groups I have a real problem. There is a tough tension between being culturally contextual and by calling all cultures together to bring their distinctive contribution into the mix that is the kingdom of God.

  13. I just came across this article, thank you.

    We are hosting a “Multiculturalism in Church?” Symposium this Saturday 28 April 2012, where Church leaders from around the country will be discussing Multicultural Church.

    I know that it is really short notice but it would be mutually benefitial to have you there.

    To find out more information, please visit http://www.unifyingthenations.org.

    God bless
    Denise Parris
    Symposium Coordinator

    1. krishkandiah says:

      dear Denise
      Thank you for your kind invitation, your consultation looks excellent.
      I am preaching in Scotland this weekend so am unable to attend.
      Hope it goes really well.

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