How-To: Developing a Diverse Ministry | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
May 2013

How-To: Developing a Diverse Ministry

By Abigail Parker Herrera (SCJ)
When I got to be part of a new church start I came with visions and ideas of things I only could only dream of happening in my former churches. They just felt too "stuck" to try something that might fail colossally. And most of the things that I wanted to try would take a long time. I wondered if my ideas would even work. Then, I got into the "lab". Doing a new church start that focuses on young adults meant we could try and fail at a lot of things. There is a lot of grace in new churches and particularly in young adults. We're big on start-up companies and crazy schemes. And we're big on keeping things simple (and cheap). One of the things I wanted to try was diversity. We talk a lot about diversity in the church but we often don't know how to become more diverse. How do we engage cultures vastly different from us? When Servant Church began in August of 2010, we were white, under 30, educated (maybe overly educated), and people with a lot of debt from going to school. Most of us were in a first or second job that didn't pay well. Many of us were just starting a marriage. We looked like the young version of our parents' churches. How would an African American show up to worship here? What about someone without a lot of education? What about the poor? I began my experiment. My hypothesis was simple: create service opportunities that allowed people to build relationships with folks who were different from us to grow into a diverse worshiping community. This community would bring its gifts and we might be more able to reach people who looked less like the original founders. We tried numerous service events that didn't work well. We continued to seek. And then, we decided to have a meal. A meal where we invited our neighbors from low income, ethnically diverse places. We decided to literally follow the Parable of the Great Banquet and feast with new people, whoever showed up, once a month. The meals went well. Some didn't. We learned from failures. And slowly, slowly things progressed. We had an educated African American show up to worship because "we were a church trying to do something." This man brought a love of old spirituals and we began to incorporate those songs into worship. That helped. Then, we noticed that people needed rides to church and we began bringing folks with us. That helped. We started to pray with the people from the apartments we visited. That helped. This past Easter, at a brunch following church at a congregant's house on the "good side" of town, I looked out into the yard and saw children of every color playing with one another. I saw people who were rich and poor sharing a meal. I saw high school drop outs and people on their way to earning their doctorates. I saw people who were in their 20's and people in their 60's. And best of all, 2 Sunday's ago at the church picnic, I was sitting with an older African American neighbor and, in the middle of our conversation she stopped talking, smiled, and whispered, "There's my family!". I looked across the field and saw her "family"--a group of white people from Servant Church walking across the field with a picnic basket and her daughter running in front of them. How do you develop a diverse family? You eat a lot of meals with strangers and live into the awkward friendships this creates. You keep repeating that for 2 years or longer. It's that hard. And that easy.