The New Conspirators

March 25, 2008

by Tom Sine, Mustard Seed Associates


In the UK, more churches were planted in the last seven years than Starbucks were opened—over 1,000 churches as compared to only 750 Starbucks coffee shops. Interestingly, most of these church plants were ethnic and multi-cultural.

God is doing something new through a new generation, as I report in The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, which will be published by IVP in 2008. I believe God is working through at least four streams: the emerging church, missional churches, mosaic church plants and the monastic movement. We have received very positive responses to the two most recent Seed Samplers the emerging and missional streams. This issue will attempt to describe what God is doing through those in the mosaic stream, which I define as multi-cultural church plants. While the emerging and missional leadership is overwhelmingly male and white, in this stream, God is doing something new through leaders from a number of different cultures.

In this issue, we have included some voices that are calling us to deal with issues that could enable the church to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender. David Park, of Next Gener.Asian Church, brings a very clear word about his concern with racial division in the church. Julie Clawson who administers the Emerging Women blog raises important questions about gender inclusion in the church, particularly within the new streams.

As I confessed in my book, as an aging author, I may not fully grasp all that God is doing through the young and the risk-taking. As a white author who has always been a part of a culture of privilege, I am certainly not the best one to write about the mosaic or multicultural stream. Eliacín Rosario-Cruz, who is a member of our MSA team and originally from Puerto Rico, holds our feet to the fire on issues of race, power and privilege.

It is past time for those of us who are white to wake up to the reality that we are living in a new majority world. By 2060, the United States will become the first non-European Western nation—a nation of Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. Those of us from European roots will just be another group. All of our churches need to help prepare to not only live in this future but receive and celebrate the gifts from other cultures as well.

In other words, the days of people with European roots running the world and the church are rapidly slipping away. While the churches in Western countries are overwhelmingly in decline, many churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America are growing at an explosive rate. Many of these churches are involved in reverse missions—planting churches in the United States, Canada and Britain. The leadership of the church will also increasingly shift to the majority world.

Clarkston Bible Church in Clarkston, Georgia, has already awakened to the new reality. Older white southern women in their Sunday finery find themselves worshiping with immigrants from the Philippines, Togo, refugees form war-torn Liberia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Afghanistan. Slowly, more and more churches are becoming much more like our richly multi-cultural world. But not only traditional churches are beginning to wake to this new reality. Young innovators are as well. Increasingly, multi-cultural leaders are beginning to come to the fore.

Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson’s book The Hip Hop Church and Tommy Kyllonen’s Un.orthodox offer compelling evidence that God is doing something new through young people from a spectrum of diverse cultures. Acknowledging some of the difficult issues associated with hip-hop culture, for example, sex, violence and materialism, both books recognize hip-hop as not just an expression of urban African-American culture, but the language of a new generation all over the planet, connecting young people in Britain, Germany and Japan.

Though most in the mosaic stream have never heard the word “postmodernity,” the urban youth of hip hop culture share a suspicion of modernity, authority and pat answers with the young leaders of the emerging church. Efrem Smith tells me that urban hip-hop culture isn’t just postmodern, but also post-institutional, post-soul and post-civil rights too.

Urban African-American young people are hungry for a spirituality to which they can relate. There are reportedly some 20 hip hop churches in United States and more are coming. Hip-hop churches are only one expression of what God is doing through a growing number of multicultural churches.

Kyllonen reminds us that the times are changing: “The emerging church is also the young black male in the hood. It is the second-generation Mexican in LA and the child of the Chinese immigrant in Houston. The emerging church is the Puerto Rican female on Wall Street.”

A number of second-generation Asian churches in Canada and the United States have chosen to become multicultural congregations. Some multicultural churches in California came together around inter-racial families that didn’t feel completely at home in mono-cultural churches.

There are even a few mono-cultural churches that are beginning to question whether that model is fully biblical. Kingston United Reformed Church in Britain, comprised of Korean, Russian, Nigerian, Chinese and English members, has worked very intentionally to become a multicultural congregation. Pastor Leslie Charlton believes diversity is essential to being church. “You cannot call yourself a church if you are all the same.” She added, “It may be a nice group, but a church, like the kingdom of God, must have room for everybody.”

In Doug Lee’s church plant, called Catalyst in Culver City, California, the multiethnic congregation enjoys the rich gifts of several different cultures. People from the South Pacific Islands bring a spirit of warmth, welcome and generosity. African American members teach others about being fully present to God and highly invested in worship. Latino members remind the congregation of the importance of family and hospitality. And Asian members bring service without the need for recognition. Doug Lee says his church family is richer because of diverse gifts people bring.

I experience something of the rich gifts of the tapestry of God’s new community at the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association, started by John Perkins. They always have an urban choir in whatever city they are meeting that lifts our souls to the rafters. I also experience rich gifts at the Urbana Missions Conference because those who lead worship represent the many of the wonderful cultures of our world.

Mustard Seed Associates hosted an evening with community activist Rudy Carrasco called “The Color of Love in the City” to start a conversation about what love looks like between communities. After Rudy shared his stories, Eliacín Rosario-Cruz led a discussion on race and culture. To my surprise, people from a range of different racial backgrounds shared very openly about both their pain and their attempts to live faithfully in a multicultural society.

One of the most innovative congregations in the US in the area of ethnic diversity is a church in Southern California actually called Mosaic. It is located in Los Angeles, California, where people from all over the world settle. The church responds to the challenge of a multi-cultural, postmodern, pluralistic and global community. Like the emerging church, they give a major piece of their life and mission to the arts; their group Urban Poets includes artists, dramatists and social innovators.

Most of the pastors of these churches are not content to just create interesting programs to meet the needs of people within the building. Like missional leaders, these church planters are intent on involving their members in word and deed ministries that impact the lives of people in their communities. Eugene Cho created a multicultural church plant in Seattle called Quest. Quest has been devoted to local and global mission from its inception. Their coffee shop, the Q Café, serves as a place to engage their community and a performance space for local artists. They work with the homeless and offer computer education classes for kids struggling in school as well as being involved in global initiatives.

As you can see from this brief overview, multicultural churches—along with the increasing number of immigrant churches—are going to be part of the growing edge of the Church in Western countries. This new mosaic stream is quite diverse, but what they all seem to share in common, like emerging churches, is their desire to a reach out to new generation. Like the missional churches they also see their mission much more focused on the needs of those beyond their congregation. We all need to pay more attention to what God is doing through the mosaic stream and explore new forms of collaboration that enable the church to lead in celebrating the gifts that will be a part of our richly multicultural future.