Census projections have opened a window into the America of 2050, “and it’s Houston today,” said Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University.
I pulled the above quote from the center of a Los Angeles Times article showcasing Houston as the most diverse city in America. The article begins at a high school soccer match on the southwest side of the city. The fans cheer their children on, screaming in Spanish, Kinyarwanda, Swahili, and some English. The article continues by raising the issue of sanctuary cities and the current political battle over the issue in government. It moves on to discuss the development of America’s crown of diversity, a once overwhelming white oil town, that now finds its white residents are no longer a majority. In fact, no one is. Houston exists as a plurality, a mosaic of radically different groups, cultures, and languages.
Here is a section of the article that hits the point:
“This biracial Southern city dominated by white men throughout all of its history has become, by many measures, the single most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country,” Klineberg said. “Who knew Houston would turn out to be at the forefront of what’s happening across all of America?”
One street tells the traditions of several continents.
Along Hillcroft Avenue, in the Mahatma Gandhi District, Indian restaurants share space in a plaza with Consultorio Medico Hispano — a health clinic — and Crystal Nightclub, a Latino dance club that draws an LGBTQ crowd.
Further down the street, Sweet Factory, which sells pastries from the Middle East, edges up to a store that helps immigrants ship boxes home to relatives in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea shop at a flea market where the vendors primarily speak Spanish.
“I love Houston because we’re able to be in a place that I don’t have to be afraid of people that don’t look like me,” said Nicole Walters, an African American Houston native married to a Jamaican who was out shopping one recent afternoon for a sari to wear to a Bollywood event.
In 1970, about 62% of Houston’s population was white. By 2010, that had shrunk to 25.6%. Over the same period, the Latino population grew from 10.6% to about 44%.
Newcomers have long been part of the Houston story, a city of migrants from across the U.S. that later became a city of immigrants — and their children. From 2000 through 2013, the Houston metropolitan area’s immigrant population grew at nearly twice the national rate.
What is more, this article has the audacity to call its reader’s attention to the fact that our other American cities are headed in this direction as well. The article claims Houston is perhaps the “road map” as “whites learn to live as minorities in the American heartland.”
Those are some important words, and words church leaders need to note. America is in a period of intense cultural transition. We have a long history of being a melting pot, of being a country forged from immigrant groups making this their home. It has produced the American pioneering spirit. Nevertheless, our earliest booms from immigration were the result of European immigrants. We have been for the longest time a country with a large white majority. In coming decades, this may no longer be the case.
A couple of days ago, I noted a recent Pew article that claimed we were on pace to beat a century-old record for foreign-born percentages. This time, however, those foreign-born peoples are primarily from anywhere other than Europe. The new America may be one where white people, at least in our cities, are no longer the majority.
My question for church leaders: How do your ministry methods hold up when you are not the cultural majority?
In a world where that many languages are shouted at a single high school soccer game (nevermind American football anymore), how does your gospel message make sense to any of them? Certainly, we will have subsequent generations of children who gradually assimilate into whatever new majority culture emerges. The article notes the cross-cultural dating that occurs in these diverse high schools. However, do not forget the foreign-born, the parents of those children. Many to most of them will continue on in their own culture, possessing a heart language other than your own. That is over 13% of our country right now, and that number may increase. Any strategy that overlooks these people is pragmatic, not gospel-centered.
Simply doing church the way we have always done it will only reach a diminishing portion of our population. Slapping the label “multi-ethnic” or “multi-cultural” on your largely Western way of doing ministry and corporate worship does not meet the needs of radical diversity. Intentional multi-ethnic approaches (that are actually multi-ethnic) are absolutely essential for generations of descendants who grow up alongside ours in those high schools, but even this is insufficient. We need more than multi-ethnic churches. We need churches in Spanish, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili. Imagine the impact your church can have by introducing the gospel to the Pakistani community in your city, only to plant a church for them and raise up a Pashto-speaking pastor. This church can now serve as a living, gospel witness to their community just as your local church should be to yours.