Practical Help for Becoming a More Diverse Church in our Post-Christian Context with Jordan Rice
Welcome to this week’s unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Jordan Rice, pastor at Renaissance Church in Harlem, New York.
Harlem is the crown jewel of African American culture in the US, but is currently going through gentrification which is leading to the displacement of local, native folks for newer people, many of which are from different ethnicities. This creates both a problem and an opportunity for the church. Renaissance launched five years ago and was created with the dream of reaching both the old and new Harlem, and to be a place where people could live as family.
Jordan is with us today to talk about reaching the increasingly diverse neighborhoods and bringing them together in Christ.
- Diversity requires intentionality. // The church in America has believed that although segregation and separation happened intentionally, diversity would happen unintentionally. But it’s an unrealistic and short-sighted approach to think that we will stumble our way into diversity and change. Renaissance knew this change would take a lot of effort and they walked into it very prayerfully. The primary focus up front was on the “why” before going into the “what.” The why is the picture of the kingdom of God that brings people together across ethnic, socioeconomic, and other boundaries to be a reunited and reclaimed family of Jesus followers.
- What reinforces the why. // Focusing on the value of that why has shaped how Renaissance has constructed their ministry. As you talk about the why, the what is also on display. This includes the way Renaissance has hired people, how they to set up the worship team, where people stand, the type of greeters to have at the door, and more. All of these actions are taken intentionally to reinforce the value of diversity in God’s family at Renaissance.
- Custom build. // Renaissance Church finds that they need to do a custom build on everything in their church. For example, they don’t buy children’s ministry curriculum from an outside source because it doesn’t represent their neighborhood well. So they build the curriculum themselves. This approach may feel inefficient but as Jordan notes, sometimes the values of diversity and efficiency can be in competition with each other, and Renaissance is committed to the value of diversity.
- Spread diversity. // Renaissance Church didn’t rush to fill their space with people to just have warm bodies there, but was intentional to fill it with the right people that would allow the church to grow in all ways. Similarly the church didn’t rush out into diverse communities immediately, but encouraged the right people who did attend to invite their family and friends, increasing diversity in that way.
- Listen well, then respond. // In the early years Renaissance had a lot of initiatives planned which didn’t work, mostly because they didn’t understand the level to which people didn’t care what the bible says. If it didn’t make emotional sense to people, it didn’t matter how much rational sense it made. So Renaissance decided to host a series of coffee chats were people could ask any questions that they wanted. These times of listening and discussion allowed Jordan to hear what people’s fears, doubts, and arguments were rooted in. It taught the staff to listen well first, then respond.
- The price of leadership is always criticism. // Criticism is going to happen no matter what, so a Christian leader should be above reproach, but you’ll never be above criticism. One of the primary things God uses to disciple you is the church and the work you do, so as you are undergoing criticism, this is developing fruit in your life.
- The right representation. // Having representation is important, but having the right representation is even more important. For Renaissance Church that looks like homegrown Harlemites, and people of other ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds that represent the neighborhood there. God will honor your prayers for diversity and lead you to the right person for representation.
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