By Mike Goldsworthy
In 2007, I was sitting in a room filled with other pastors from Long Beach, California. We were a predominately Anglo audience listening to an expert describe the city’s rapidly changing demographics. According to the last two census reports, Long Beach is one of the most diverse large cities in the United States. This in a city that for many years had been fondly referred to as “Iowa by the Sea” because of the large number of residents who are migrants from Iowa.
As I sat in that room, I was in the midst of a two-year transition plan to become lead pastor of our church after our current lead pastor retired. I was spending a lot of time thinking about, praying about, and planning what our next steps would be as a church, and it immediately became evident that among those “next steps” was to work toward becoming more multiethnic.
Parkcrest Christian Church was birthed in the early 1950s, when the majority of migration to Long Beach was coming from the Midwest and most of the people arriving were white. That migration pattern began to change in the late 1970s, but, while the demographics were beginning to change, it was still largely a white-dominated population, or at least it seemed that way for a while. It almost felt like a changing community snuck up on us, but we could look backwards and easily see the growing tide of the changing demographics.
As I sat in that room, I was confronted with the future of our church—its relevance and a growing theological conviction that the gospel is not fully on display in homogenous churches.
Move Toward Multiethnic
We began to make changes at our church in order to move toward becoming more multiethnic. Our church, however, was older, larger, and had grown primarily by attracting people who were like us. Change did not happen as rapidly or easily as I had hoped.
As a church, we were starting multisite campuses, allowing them to grow to a place of health, and then releasing them as independent church plants. We decided one of the criteria we would set for these new churches is that they be multiethnic from the start. That meant we would hire staff and choose leadership teams who would have the capacity and vision for leading a multiethnic church.
At one of our campuses that had become a church plant, we hired as lead pastor a bilingual El Salvadorian who is married to a Mexican. At another plant, we hired an Anglo who grew up in a heavily Hispanic area, who is also married to a Mexican. Both churches are now among the most diverse in our area, while also being very effective evangelistically. At each of them, multiple ethnicities has become normal and expected; the people of those churches see it as part of the richness of being in a Christ-centered community.
We also began to realize other churches and pastors in our area had the same concern; that is, the changing community wasn’t being fully reflected in their churches. Because of that, eight churches got together and began a new organization called PlantLB, a city-centric, multidenominational, multiethnic church planting organization in Long Beach. We wanted to come together to see more healthy, thriving churches that reflected the changing realities of our community. As a result, we have now seen more than 10 new churches planted over the past three years in the Greater Long Beach area. Every one of those churches is intentionally multiethnic.
Being intimately involved in helping start new churches that are intentionally multiethnic has been a catalyst to continue moving in that direction. As we show pictures and tell stories of those churches, while talking about the beauty of a multiethnic church, it encourages our people to want to move in that direction. As new churches, they can be more flexible and experiment more. As they do that, we are able to learn from them as well.
Starting new churches with an intentional bent toward multiethnic ministry has not been an excuse for our established church to forego the hard work of moving in that direction, but instead has been a helpful model and example. We still have a long way to go, and I can get frustrated by how long progress takes, but I also know these new churches are having a significant influence in helping us move in that direction.
Mike Goldsworthy serves as lead pastor with Parkcrest Christian Church, Long Beach, California, and as an adjunct professor of homiletics with Hope International University, Fullerton, California.