In some contexts, a mono-ethnic church is to be expected. Some countries and communities are mono-ethnic, and a church in that country or community will reflect that homogeneous composition. We can’t really expect a church in a mono-ethnic culture to be multi-ethnic, unless they somehow import people from other cultures into their country or community. For the purpose of this article, we will look at mono-ethnic churches within the context of a broader, more diverse culture.
People naturally tend to seek out the company of people they consider similar to themselves, and this is true on Sunday mornings as well as the rest of the week. In America, Christians from many different races and ethnic groups congregate for worship; some will attend a multi-ethnic church, while others will seek out a mono-ethnic church, that is, one that specifically ministers to people of their ethnicity and background. Generally speaking, the existence of ethnic-specific churches should be viewed as an area of Christian freedom, and we should be willing to accept such churches as a manifestation of the biblical church to the degree that the biblical mandates regarding the church are being followed.
In other parts of the world, it is not unusual to find an English-speaking church for Americans, Brits, and Australians. Sometimes there are churches for each of these groups if there is a large population in that country. In some countries, it is actually illegal for foreigners to meet with the local population for worship services, necessitating a different church for English-speaking Christians.
Mono-ethnic churches in the United States provide a place for Christians of various backgrounds to worship the Lord in a familiar way, often in their first language. Of course, churches following the biblical model should be open to all comers, regardless of race or ethnic background. But the language barrier is just that—a barrier. There is nothing wrong with a group of Filipino Christians, for example, gathering to worship the Lord in Tagalog, for Chinese Christians to worship in Mandarin, for Korean Christians to worship in Korean, or for Hispanic Christians to worship in Spanish.
Mono-ethnic churches are actively reaching a minority population in which individuals may be in the country temporarily as students, visiting scholars, or short-term workers. Giving visitors a place where they can feel comfortable among those who share the same culture and language can open doors for sharing the gospel. In this context, the mono-ethnic church provides an important “bridge” from one culture to another, and those who receive the gospel and are saved can carry the good news back to their home countries.
Many multi-ethnic churches engage in monocultural ministry; that is, they worship together on Sunday, but they also sponsor ministries that target specific ethnic groups in their community. Such a church might have a Chinese-language Bible study on Sunday afternoon, a Hispanic outreach on Tuesday evening, or a fellowship with local Samoans on Thursday. Such ministries are a wonderful way to “go into all the world,” or at least let the world coming to us find a place to hear and see and know the love of God in Christ.
The more the individuals within a congregation assimilate into the culture at large, the less need there is for a mono-ethnic church and the more likely the church will take steps to becoming multi-ethnic. This assimilation has happened in the past: in nineteenth-century America, one could find church services exclusive to Poles, Germans, Swedes, and Netherlanders, among others. Today, one can find churches with people of Polish, German, Swedish, and Dutch ancestry sitting in the same congregation.
It must be said that it is not right for a church to limit its ministry exclusively to one race or cultural background. Division within the body of Christ simply for the sake of segregation or to maintain racial “purity” is not good. Having cultural distinctives is fine, but to intentionally maintain those distinctives to the exclusion of sharing Christ with other cultures is a contradiction of biblical principles. If a church is being intentionally exclusionary and limiting admittance to only those of the targeted population, then they are opposing Christ’s work of reconciling all peoples to God and to each other (see Ephesians 2:11–22).
Multi-ethnic, heterogeneous churches glorify the Lord in showing the broad reach of the gospel and the unity of Christ. Mono-ethnic, homogeneous churches glorify the Lord in targeting specific needs within certain communities and bridging the gap to unreached groups. Whether a church is multi-ethnic or mono-ethnic, the congregation should remember that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).