Many churches desire to reflect heaven by welcoming diversity in their church but struggle to know how to draw in a diverse crowd. At Vanderbloemen, we want to walk alongside churches that are looking to invite, engage, and retain a congregation that better reflects their community. We believe this means starting from the top, down.
To help offer you deeper insight on how to develop a more diverse congregation, I spoke with our Director of Special Initiatives and Operations, Chantel McHenry, who sits on our leadership team and helps head our diversity practice. Our conversation explains why a diverse church starts with a diverse staff and how you can begin to diversify your congregation.
The First Change is Your Mindset. We cannot just hope for a diverse church and expect it to happen, much like we cannot just hope for God’s presence without intentionally seeking it. It’s important to start thinking about diversity and assessing your strategy from services to events to your church brand. Consider what it would look like for your church to be more diverse. Who can you be reaching out to? What would need to change? In order to create diversity, you need to consider everything through a more diverse lens. Talk to leaders you trust that have a different mindset than you to see where they think you can improve. To get started identifying areas where you could initiate change, check out our Diversity Readiness Tool.
Communicate Change. For your staff to buy into change and for your new goals and initiatives to stick. You will need to document your plans and strategies. Consider updating documents, value statements, or your new-member materials if diversity is going to be an integral part of your mission moving forward. If not documented, it can be easy to give up or ignore the pursuit of diversity when challenges arise.
Create Roles That Reflect Your Values. Your congregation will reflect your staff. If your leadership team is not diverse, your church will not be. People are drawn to churches that can understand their backgrounds, struggles, and lifestyle. If you’re going to serve a diverse crowd, you need a diverse team that can meet people where they are. Attracting new people means developing a staff that has diverse interests, skills, and backgrounds. With a diverse leadership team, you’ll have people who can touch on the different needs of your diverse congregation. Make intentional diverse hires in leadership roles. If you don’t have a position open right now, create a new one.
Once you start hiring people with different ideas and experiences, your culture will automatically begin to change as long as these hires are on your leadership team. Including new and different voices in the decision-making process is the key to infiltrating your entire culture with more diverse initiatives. Having people that can point out areas of improvement that you may not have seen before is vital to growth and improvement.
Make Sure Your Promotional Materials Match Your Goals. Your church will reflect what you put out. If your promotional materials only have pictures of one type of person, family, or lifestyle on them, your church will continue to lack diversity. People want to be a part of churches where they feel welcome and can see themselves reflected. If you want to have a diverse congregation, make sure your communication materials reflect a variety of relatable images and messages.
This kind of strategy and thoughtfulness can be time-consuming. If you don’t have someone in place responsible for consistent and intentional messaging, consider hiring a specialized Communication role. We have a free guide including job descriptions and templates to save you time creating this role. You can also hire a diversity coordinator that works inter-departmentally to ensure diversity is prioritized across the organization. Hiring a diverse leader as your next hire, even if their focus isn’t diversity, will help bring new ideas and experience into your staff.
Prepare Your Staff. A senior pastor is unable to diversify the church alone. After all, the very meaning of diversity implies more than one person’s experiences and mindset. While diversity needs to start at the top of your org chart to be successful, the whole staff needs to be behind your mission, meaning diversity needs to become a talking point in every meeting in order for it to become a part of your church culture.
Outside of offering accountability, your staff is also able to offer you insight and raise questions you have not considered yet. Have conversations with your staff about what your goals are and how you are going to go about reaching them. Encourage feedback and ideas, especially from people who think differently than you.
Preparing your staff also includes preparing them for the challenges that will come with changing your church's culture. When you invite new ideas, you’re inviting change, which can be difficult for a lot of people, especially if they’re tenured. Let them know that it’s normal to struggle with change and encourage an open conversation to ensure you’re hearing everyone’s voices. In a culture change, there will inevitably be people who don’t align with new initiatives. It’s critical to remain dedicated to your pursuit of diversity even when challenging conversations occur. Use these conversations as an opportunity to offer grace.
Be Patient. Building a culture that revolves around diversity takes time. One diverse hire will not immediately bring a diverse congregation. Furthermore, finding the right candidate who will be willing and able to start diversity initiatives in your church will take time. As you begin to pursue diversity, remember, the steps you start making now are essential if your church is going to reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God.
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Sutton Turner is the chief operating officer of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally.