The Polis Center at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis conducted a survey that shows Sunday morning church services are still very segregated in the 21st century. The survey revealed that 87 percent of all churches in Indianapolis were predominantly one race.
According to David Bundy, associate professor of church history at Christian Theological Seminary, the mainline Protestant, or traditional, denominations began in Europe as “ethnic churches.” Lutherans were German, Presbyterians Scottish, Episcopalians English. In America, many African-Americans created their own churches because they weren’t welcome at white churches.
However, some churches in Indianapolis are trying to give new meaning to the words “You are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)” by embracing multiculturalism.
Lakeview Church, located on the Westside of Indianapolis, is one such congregation that strives to be both multiethnic and multicultural.
Ron Bontrager, the lead pastor of Lakeview Church, explained that in the mid-80s he pastored a multiethnic church in an Illinois college town. The college had a high percentage of international students who would visit the church.
“We had a lot of people coming to that church from other countries and nationalities. It became a very blended church and when we came to Indianapolis it never left our hearts. When you are involved in diversity, it opens your eyes to other peoples’ experiences,” Bontrager explained.
Another Indianapolis church that strives to embrace a diverse community is Broadway United Methodist Church, located on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. Once a congregation of mostly whites, when the demographics of the Indianapolis community changed, the church decided to change with it.
“A lot of congregations moved when they saw the demographics change, but we asked ourselves what our role was in terms of people and place. We decided we needed to accept whoever was around us. It became part of our identity,” said Duana Carlisle, the youth pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church.
The church remains dedicated to reaching the entire community. For five days out of the week and for eight weeks during the summer, Carlisle and a group composed of people between the ages of 14 to 22, go out into the community and look for people to talk with.
“If someone is working in a garden we will stop and talk to them,” Carlisle said. “We build relationships and have conversations. I think in this community people focus on negatives such as low income or violence instead of finding the good and building on it. We want to get to know who our community really is and let them get to know us.”
These churches are not the only churches in Indianapolis embracing multiculturalism. Other diverse churches include Calvary Temple of Indianapolis, One Vision in Christ Community Baptist Church, Umoja Christian Church and St. Monica Catholic Church. Bontrager thinks its important to research any church’s beliefs and mission statement before joining to make sure it backs up what you personally believe. He says that though diversity is a good thing, it should not come second to the church’s teachings.
“Finding a church has to start in the heart. People only feel welcome if they see what’s in your heart. I believe that God will bring the people together that he wants together,” said Bontrager.
Both pastors say that there may be difficulties when adjusting to a multicultural church, and even difficulties within the church, but the positives that the congregation takes from being a part of a diverse community outweighs the negatives.
“I think there are people that are afraid of the whole diversity thing in terms of church, but when they experience it they see how wonderful it really is,” said Carlisle.
Carlisle doesn’t think fear of struggles should stop people from getting involved.
“There will be struggles along the way. Sometimes a struggle might revolve around what type of music should be played at a worship service. I think being in a community here forces people to find their common humanity. We live in a diverse community and we are trying to find a way to be the body of Christ.”
(Originally published in 2011)