By Steve Blake
Catalyst of Austin is a new church plant in the fastest-growing city in the country, Austin, Texas. My prayer in starting Catalyst of Austin was that God would allow us to be a multiethnic church that advances his kingdom in our city and beyond.
To God’s glory, within a few short months of the church’s launch, there are approximately 15 ethnic backgrounds and nationalities represented, including Filipino, Chinese, Indian, Puerto Rican, African-American, Jamaican, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Mexican, Norwegian, German, Hawaiian, Russian, and Spanish. Several of these people are first-generation immigrants, like myself, while an equal number are second-generation.
The multiple ethnicities and nationalities are celebrated not simply for being people from different places in the same room, but also as God’s kingdom moving closer to the Revelation 7:9 vision of a crowd from “every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
I was born to a Jamaican father and English mother in Kingston, Jamaica, and emigrated to the United States, where I attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In my teen years, my parents lived in London, England, and so I also spent considerable time there. I describe myself as multiethnic, multicultural, and multinational. To further complicate things, my wife, Tori, is African-American. For now we just call our kids “human,” as there is no preestablished race that could account for their ethnic background.
Our “multi-identity” and transnationalism is becoming increasingly common among Americans, especially in urban centers. After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, immigrants from all over the world were given the opportunity to build a life and future in the United States. The children and grandchildren of these immigrants are now ingrained in the American society, economy, and culture, and yet still carry the culture of their ethnic families. The beauty of urbanized global cities in our day is that instead of there being cultural silos, the children and grandchildren of immigrants are beginning to build community together and celebrate each other’s cultures. The diverse crowd at urban ethnic restaurants is one example of this.
As Catalyst of Austin has grown, we have celebrated these connections across cultures and ethnicities. These connections remind us of our common humanity in the image of God; these connections bring unity and reconciliation.
These connections are highlighted in kitchen conversations with second-
generation immigrants from various groups about finding our common way in life, family, and faith. These connections are embraced in our fellowship on Sunday mornings and whenever we are together. Establishing these connections magnifies the power of the gospel as we celebrate the image of God in one another and our cultures.
Those of Anglo descent who are a part of Catalyst see the church as reflecting what they already experience in schools, universities, and corporate and urban America. Recently, one of our white members joked that she felt like a minority at Catalyst. In many ways, she appreciates the multiculturalism God has blessed us with. The truth is that by 2050, America will be a nation of minorities. There will no longer be a majority group. I am excited that God is building a church in Austin that reflects the emerging multiethnic demographic of global cities.
1. Celebrate all cultures.
After prayer, our key strategy for building an urban, multiethnic church is celebrating our diversity and differences. Those on the forefront of multiethnic ministry, including Alvin Sanders, author of Bridging the Diversity Gap, argue that being “color-blind” is not God’s desire. God made us different and we need to appreciate, highlight, and celebrate the unique aspects of each culture.
Soong-Chan Rah, author of The Next Evangelicalism, says, “Culture is the expression of the image of God in the community context.” There are aspects of every culture that will reflect the image of God, and these need to be celebrated. Likewise, there are aspects of every culture, including the dominant American culture, that reflect the fallen human condition, and these need to be confronted with the gospel.
2. Appreciate individual identity narratives.
As we build our multiethnic church, I have been intentional about seeing people as individuals. Mark DeYmaz says, “The understanding we need to be effective in a cross-cultural environment is gained through experience and interaction with diverse people.”
In our cities today, people from similar ethnic backgrounds may share very little in common. Take as an example an Indian-American member of our church. I must take into account that his family is from a specific ethnic group in southern India, he was born in the U.S, and he is an American millennial who grew up in Minnesota. Though there are similarities, his identity narrative is quite different from another Indian-American in our church who was actually born in India and grew up on Long Island in a family where his father was a church planter among the Indian diaspora in New York.
As you can tell from these examples, appreciating individual identity narratives requires a high level of relational intentionality similar to Luke’s description of the fellowship of believers in Acts 2:42-47.
Steve Blake is lead pastor with Catalyst of Austin, Texas. Read more about Catalyst of Austin in a feature story published by the largest local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman.