How Do You Build a Wealth-Diverse Community?

My church, Jesus the Recreator, is trying to build a diverse community in San Jose, California.  Diverse not just racially, but also socio-economically.  To me, the latter is the hard part.  Personally, I have a much easier time socializing with other educated people regardless of race.  Do you feel the same?  In the secular non-profit world, I also see this clear class division.  You either work directly with the poor, such as social work, or indirectly as a part of a think tank or foundation.  The former generally don’t write papers or work on policy, and the latter don’t have friends among the poor.

If it’s hard to make friends outside of your socio-economic class, it’s even harder to build a whole church community.  I know of only a few examples of current-day churches which have managed to do this: Mako and Ming’s church in Dorchester, Gary and Jodi’s church in Oakland, and Grace Fellowship Community Church in San Francisco.  My impression is that it takes many years and an extraordinary level of commitment to develop this type of community.  Do you know of other examples, and if you’ve been a part of such a church, what have been the key factors to making it work?

4 thoughts on “How Do You Build a Wealth-Diverse Community?

  1. Hi Ed,
    I came across the blog of Dr. Anthony Bradley, an African American PCA member, who talks about how the PCA is likely to remain a white (with some East Asian), educated, middle class denomination despite its attempts to reach the “center city.” He says the PCA will not reach blacks and Latinos, and is offputting to lower-income whites. Political persuasion is also something he believes plays a strong factor. It’s quite a thought provoker:

    Bradley points out that the homogeneous unit principle (HUP) absolutely cripples attempts to build multi-ethnic and multi-cultural congregations. So the first way to start building a Christian community with different educational levels, etc. would be to ditch the HUP.

    Of course, worship style is a factor.

    Politics, too.

  2. South End Neighborhood Church of Emmanuel in Boston is definitely an example of an socioeconomically-diverse church. From what I’ve gathered of the church’s history, it took a huge deal of (lifelong) commitment to living in the neighborhood. As the South End has gentrified, the church has maintained its ties with former residents who have moved away and with those still living in the community in subsidized housing. One of the associate pastors has a very active outreach ministry geared towards people without homes. While these days there is a good percentage of young professionals who have been attracted to the church community, the church hasn’t lost its focus on its core population. That means that sermon styles, topics, and anecdotes, as well as worship style, are accessible to those without high levels of education. I haven’t glimpsed a hint of politics in the church, and I couldn’t tell you which way the staff would vote. I’m sure the members who have been there for 30+ years would have much more insight into what makes it work. From what I’ve seen, it’s just a handful of humble, Christ-loving people who were willing to disregard conventional notions of success and value, and walk the long, unglamorous path of loving their neighbors. It is a church that makes me ashamed of the prejudices I still hold and that has provided me with abundant role models.

    Also, I’m not personally familiar with Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC, but from what I remember of reading _Not All Of Us Are Saints_ by David Hilfiker, I think it may also be an example of a socioeconomically-diverse church.

  3. I’ve been part of churches that were trying to be diverse both ethnically and in terms of wealth for the last 15 years, and I think crossing the wealth barrier is harder. People of different incomes often have such different personal interests, class assumptions, and lifestyles that it’s very hard even to just have a normal, non-awkward conversation during “coffee hour” after church.

    Certainly churches like New Hope in Oakland have crossed the barrier by living together in a single, lower income community.

    But for me, a Pentecostal church I was part of in LA years ago stands out too: they never ever talked about multiethnicity, diversity, justice or anything close to it. But it drew together people who were super-zealous about the Holy Spirit in their lives, and they happened to come from a very wide spectrum of wealth backgrounds. The result was a community built around very intense conversations about their spiritual lives, but almost nothing about work, recreation, current events, etc.

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