by Scott Ridout
For the past year, Converge's district and national leadership have been working together on a diversity assessment of our movement. As in everything we do, our objective in this endeavor is to help more people meet, know and follow Jesus. We acknowledge our world, country and communities are changing and our organization needs to make adjustments to more effectively bridge spiritual, social, ethnic and cultural divides so prevalent in our society. We see the tensions in the news, in the streets, in our relationships and even in our hearts, and we are as convinced as ever the answer to our issues as a society are found in the gospel and in personal transformation found in Jesus Christ.
The opportunity for the church to shine as a beacon of hope has never been greater in our country, nor has the opportunity to impact people from every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
The first step in our process was to bring in an outside consultant to gather meaningful data to help inform our future strategies. We are deeply indebted to Dr. Charles Taylor of ROAR Enterprises for his thorough assessment of our movement. We are also grateful to Dr. Robin Holland, Convergeís Director of Diversity and Senior Pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Aurora, Colorado, for his leadership and coordination of the assessment process. Dr. Holland, Dr. Taylor and the ROAR Enterprises team hosted gatherings with both national offices in Orlando and Chicago, the national Board of Overseers as well as groups of leaders in all 11 districts. In addition, a survey was submitted to all churches for response. As a result, we heard from 670 leaders from over 500 of our churches and mission fields. While we did not hear from everyone, we feel this survey gives us a real sense of the posture of our 1301 churches.
Dr. Taylor and Dr. Holland presented the findings of the assessment to the Converge Leadership Team (District Executive Ministers, National Executive Team and Bethel Executive Team), the national Board of Overseers and several missions experts in order for those leaders to speak into this assessment and determine first steps as a result of the assessment.
The report included ratings of Converge in nine areas affecting diversity, including issues such as racial bias, diversity definitions, resources, policies, values, competencies, challenges, practices and trainings by district as well as movement-wide.
In all areas, Converge was rated by district and as a whole in all nine categories. Our present stage was defined as either "beginning," "intermediate" or "advanced." Although some districts scored an occasional "intermediate" rating, overall our movement is in the beginning stages, as expected. The most encouraging findings included:
97% felt that diversity matters to God and it was time for Converge to address the issue of diversity.
94% felt a focus on diversity would have positive and not negative effects (loss of attendance or giving) in their congregations.
92% felt a focus on diversity would lead to deeper spiritual growth.
We are thrilled with these findings. We also believe God has both put it on the hearts of Converge leaders and positioned Converge churches to reach entire communities with the gospel. Developing a greater understanding and embracing our differences will make us more effective in reaching more people with the life-changing message of the gospel.
Other results are more sobering--and they show we have much work to be done:
88% report no budget for diversity activities.
74% of respondents say their church has no diversity policies.
74% report they have never received any formal diversity training.
These findings indicated something we saw in most areas of our movement; that while the willingness to change is present, action to promote change has not yet been implemented.
In addition, the study found that 71% of those taking the survey report exercising "color blindness." Color blindness is the idea that overlooking or ignoring racial and ethnic differences promotes harmony. The large majority of those taking the survey indicated they believe racism exists in our country and has had a negative effect on many. Unfortunately, color blindness unintentionally negates the idea that race has had any effect of the quality of life one might have had.
The recommendations of the assessment include adopting a posture of being color conscious--acknowledging the challenges, valuing the histories and celebrating the differences of each person's journey. Racial insensitivity, even if it is unintentional, over time can break the bonds of trust and collaboration necessary to impact a community. I appreciate the statement of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who famously wrote: "To overcome racism, one must first take race into account." Choosing to be color conscious will increase our sensitivity to and appreciation of the journeys of our individual pasts and build a foundation of faith, trust and honor for our future together. In fact, the recommendations went on to say we should consider a posture of color brave rather than color blind. We have been challenged to adopt the practices as the church that walks alongside, defends and assists those who are ill-treated or experience injustice because of their ethnicity.
Other findings include:
73% report their congregation consists primarily of one racial group.
61% report that congregation has 200 or less members.
12% report having services in more than one language.
In addition, 80% requested diversity training and resources from Converge. At present God has blessed us with over 308 of our 1301 churches defining themselves as cultural, ethnic or multicultural. We are grateful for the blessing of God on our movement to have such a variety of backgrounds!
The study also showed that every district could self-identify diversity experts in their districts. God has already supplied many of the leaders we will need to move forward!
The major results of the survey were 25 key recommendations, with an additional 60 secondary recommendations to be considered, along with pages of potential resources to move us forward on this journey.
The top two recommendations were put into action immediately:
1) Converge will hire a full-time Vice President of Diversity to be a part of the Executive Ministry Team of the national office. This person will report directly to the President and will work with the national office and districts in diversity matters. While this position will involve oversight of areas of diversity training and racial reconciliation, it will also include the expansion of our cultural ministries, such as the Filipino, Haitian and Vietnamese Ministry Expansion Teams (METs) and our Spanish School of Church Leadership, as well as other cultural entities, in order to expand our effectiveness among those groups and empower them to reach others.
2) A diversity task force is being assembled to define the range of diversity focus for this season, oversee the search for the Vice President of Diversity and then work with that person to select and oversee the prioritization and implementation of other recommendations in collaboration with districts and churches. Dr. Michael Henderson, Vice President of National Ministries, has been appointed to lead the task force.
Over the next months, we will assemble the task force and begin the search for this new Vice Presidential position. We ask for your prayers for the task force, our future leader in this area and for implementation of the recommendations. We commit to communicate with you as the process moves forward.
At the bottom of this document I have included an excerpt from the "Converge Responds" message I sent out in December 2014, soon after the issue in Ferguson arose. I am grateful God put this on our hearts two years ago and has prepared us for this next season. Would you read it again and commit to these actions in your life?
We are thrilled at the opportunity God has given us to lead the way for other church movements to embrace this vital moment in the life of the American church. Please join me on this journey--for God's honor and for the effectiveness of our ministry in advancing the gospel in the season to come as we start and strengthen churches together worldwide.
Converge is a powerful movement that stands on four values. We are spiritually dynamic--our desire is to live in spiritual vitality, to be led by God, in the power of his Spirit and in alignment with his will and his Word. We are missionally driven--everything we do is for the sake of the gospel. Our minds are always on the advancement of the message of God's redemption and reconciliation to all people. We are relationally devoted--we believe we are better together and, in order to accomplish our mission, we band together to support, encourage and challenge one another to move forward "united in spirit and intent on one purpose."
Our fourth value is we are ethnically diverse. Although we began as a Swedish immigrant movement, we value how God has blessed us to become a movement with a wonderful variety of heritages and backgrounds. Our hope is to reach ever-expanding circles which one day, by God's grace, will include all peoples and cultures. Our diversity as a movement gives us opportunity for greater strength and a more holistic perspective. It allows us to move past cultural Christianity with greater understanding of the wider ramifications of the gospel message as it pertains to people of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities.
Recently I had the privilege to interact with Converge's best leaders in some of our top African-American and multiethnic congregations. These are godly, committed Converge leaders, who love Jesus with all their hearts and desire to lead their congregations into a God-honoring future. I am so grateful to God for the high quality of leaders he has placed in our movement. The dialogue was informative and intriguing, heart-breaking and hopeful, revealing and refreshing. As a first step in our movementís efforts to address this issue, I have asked some of these leaders to help us get on the solution-side of this issue with practical actions that will help us moving forward.
On a more personal level, I am asking you to join me in developing a personal growth plan in this area. To begin, I would ask you to commit to three steps:
Step #1 - Be humble. Humility is the key virtue of the Christian life. Humility is the soil from which all other Christian virtues grow. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Ask God to open your heart to acknowledge the problem, open your eyes to see the need and open your mind to know how to respond. When others share their perspective, be both teachable and patient with those who hold a different opinion. Be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. Choose to take the attitude first communicated by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, "I have decided to stick with love, for hate is too great a burden to bear."
Step #2 - Become a learner. Let's decide we have not cornered the market when it comes to understanding this issue and choose to become students. In the past few months I have begun a personal growth trek by reading the autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oneness Embraced, by Dr. Tony Evans. Friends who are more acquainted with the subject have suggested other books such as Let Justice Roll Down, by John M Perkins, and Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church, by Mark Deymaz. Our former Great Lakes Executive Minister, Dr. Dwight Perry, has a great book on the issue called Breaking Down Barriers: A Black Evangelical Explains the Black Church. The point is, do something!
Step #3 - Begin a dialogue. Personal transformation will not happen with simple intellectual pursuit. We must reach across the divide in relationship. Engage in personal interaction with someone from a different ethnicity, preferably a church leader. Explain to them your desire to learn and grow. Invite them to coffee. Listen, ask questions and learn. But don't stop there. Keep the dialogue going. My prayer is that these humble beginnings will move us from dialogue to friendship and then from friendship eventually into ministry partnership. My prayer is these partnerships will result in transformed congregations, which in turn will transform our communities and eventually, a transform the world. Converge will become a movement that leads the way for churches in racial reconciliation.