The question of whether mono-ethnic churches, meaning churches that predominantly consist of and cater to one particular racial or ethnic group, are biblical has been debated by Christians. There are arguments on both sides of this issue.
Some claim that mono-ethnic churches go against the unity and diversity that should characterize the body of Christ. They point to verses such as Galatians 3:28 which says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse teaches that earthly distinctions and divisions are erased in Christ. Therefore, churches should reflect the ethnic diversity that will be present in heaven.
Additionally, in John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that all believers would be one as the Father and the Son are one. This suggests that the church should strive for unity across ethnic boundaries. Others also point to the ethnically diverse churches of the New Testament, such as the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). They claim mono-ethnic churches do not match this biblical ideal.
On the other side, supporters of mono-ethnic churches make several arguments. First, they claim that people naturally prefer to worship with others who share their culture, language, and experiences. Mono-ethnic churches meet this need for cultural familiarity in corporate worship. They allow minority groups to worship in ways that are meaningful and relatable to them.
Second, supporters say mono-ethnic churches have unique opportunities for outreach. They can tailor their methods and messages to best communicate the gospel to a particular cultural group. They serve as important mission centers to reach their own communities for Christ.
Third, those in favor of mono-ethnic churches claim they are not necessarily against unity in the wider body of Christ. They argue that having some ethnically-focused churches alongside multi-ethnic churches can demonstrate unity in diversity across congregations. As long as there is brotherly love between churches, mono-ethnicity is not necessarily divisive.
There are good-faith arguments on both sides of this issue. There are complex contextual factors to consider when evaluating specific churches. However, there do seem to be some biblical principles that can guide our thinking on mono-ethnic churches in general.
1. The church should strive to reflect the diversity of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-15). There is spiritual value in bringing together believers from different backgrounds.
2. Cultural relevance and sensitivity are important when proclaiming the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-23). It is wise to adapt our methods to best communicate to a particular group.
3. Songs, prayers, and practices should be comprehensible to the worshipers (1 Cor. 14:15-17). Corporate worship should “edify the church.”
4. The church should be a loving, unified community (John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 1:10). Mono-ethnicity should not breed racism or division in the body.
5. Our shared identity in Christ supersedes earthly distinctions (Col. 3:11; Rev. 7:9-10). Ethnic diversity will be part of our eternal worship and community.
If a mono-ethnic church is pursuing purity and unity in Christ, sensitive cross-cultural ministry, comprehensible worship, and loving outreach, it seems consistent with biblical principles. But each church must search its own heart concerning motivations and attitudes. In some cases, ethnic divisions betray deeper sins that require repentance and reconciliation.
Biblically, a mono-ethnic congregation is not inherently right or wrong. But all churches, whether multi-ethnic or mono-ethnic, should strive to reflect God’s heart for the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. Churches should also labor to ensure that ethnic distinctions do not undermine our higher unity in the gospel.
With much prayer and humility, church leaders must seek to apply biblical principles in their unique ministry contexts. This, along with an openness to the Spirit’s correction, can help guide our churches to become communities of reconciliation that shine as lights to our conflicted world.
In summary, mono-ethnic churches are not categorically prohibited in Scripture. But biblical principles should guide them to pursue cross-cultural engagement, comprehensible worship, intentional outreach, inter-church unity, and an eternal perspective on diversity in Christ. Under the Spirit’s leading, churches can discern how to work out these principles in their communities for God’s glory.
Common Arguments in Favor of Mono-Ethnic Churches
Here are some of the most common arguments made in favor of mono-ethnic churches:
Mono-ethnic churches allow people to worship with others who share their cultural background. This provides a level of familiarity and connection that some argue is easier to achieve in a mono-ethnic setting. Things like music, preaching styles, practices, food, and communication norms can all be tailored to one culture.
Mono-ethnic churches may have unique opportunities to reach their own communities in culturally relevant ways. Some argue they serve as important mission centers to spread the gospel among specific people groups.
People often naturally prefer to associate with those like themselves. Mono-ethnic churches meet this human preference for similarity.
Healing and Affirmation
For historically marginalized groups, worshiping together can provide healing and affirmation of their dignity and value. It’s argued this is easier to achieve in a mono-ethnic space.
It’s practically easier to organize around a single culture. Multi-ethnic congregations often require more intentionality, which takes time, resources, and relational investment.
Not Inherently Divisive
As long as mono-ethnic churches maintain unity with the larger body of Christ, some argue the model itself is not necessarily divisive or sinful.
Common Concerns About Mono-Ethnic Churches
Here are some common concerns raised about mono-ethnic churches:
Contradicts Spiritual Unity
Mono-ethnic churches emphasize earthly distinctions rather than spiritual unity in Christ (Gal. 3:28). All believers are one in Christ.
Undermines Cross-Cultural Reconciliation
The church should be an example of different cultures worshiping together in Christ. Mono-ethnic churches do not model reconciliation.
Reinforces Divisiveness of Culture
Culture often divides people. Mono-ethnic churches can end up reinforcing those divisions rather than bridging them.
Loss of Cross-Cultural Learning
Christians lose opportunities to learn from and be challenged by cultural perspectives different from their own.
Drift Toward Ethnocentrism
Emphasizing one culture can lead to pride, superiority, or disdain toward other cultures over time.
Hinders Effective Outreach
If the church does not reflect the diversity of the community, it may struggle to reach that community.
Undermines Model of Heaven
Heaven will consist of believers from all nations worshiping God together. Mono-ethnic churches do not reflect this eschatological picture.
Biblical Examples Relating to Mono-Ethnic Churches
Here are some biblical examples and principles that can inform our perspective on mono-ethnic churches:
Pentecost – Acts 2:1-13
The Holy Spirit descended on believers from diverse nations and languages on the day of Pentecost. This demonstrates that the church is designed to incorporate all peoples.
Antioch Church – Acts 13:1
This influential early church included various ethnicities and backgrounds: Barnabas (a Jew from Cyprus), Simeon (Niger), Lucius (Cyrene), Manaen (brought up with Herod), and Saul (a Jew and Roman citizen).
Greeks and Hebrews – Acts 6:1
Conflict arose between Greek and Hebrew widows, showing early ethnic tensions. The church responded by choosing diverse deacons.
Jew and Gentile – Ephesians 2:11-22
Jesus reconciled Jew and Gentile through the cross, making them one new people. The church should be unified across ethnic lines.
One Flock – John 10:16
Jesus said there will be one flock with one shepherd, implying an ethnically inclusive church under Christ.
Neither Jew nor Greek – Galatians 3:28
Paul says that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, showing that ethnic differences no longer divide believers.
All Nations – Matthew 28:19
We are commanded to make disciples of all nations/ethnicities. The gospel breaks down ethnic barriers.
Practical Considerations for Mono-Ethnic Churches
Here are some practical things for mono-ethnic churches to consider in seeking to apply biblical principles:
Maintain Ethnic and Cultural Pride without Superiority
Mono-ethnic churches can affirm the value of their members without viewing other cultures as inferior or less than.
Partner with Multi-Ethnic Churches
Pursue joint worship services, conferences, service projects, and events to foster inter-church unity across cultures.
Provide Cross-Cultural Education
Teach classes and workshops to give members greater biblical perspective on ethnicity, culture, racism, and God’s heart for all peoples.
Train for Cross-Cultural Ministry
Equip members to share the gospel and serve in culturally sensitive ways among those different from themselves.
Pursue Racial Reconciliation
For historically divided groups, take initiative to promote forgiveness, repentance, and healing of past wounds.
Adapt Worship Styles
Include diverse cultural elements and languages in services in recognition of the diversity in Christ’s body.
Value Input from Other Cultures
Seek diverse voices in decision-making to gain perspective and preserve unity.
Assess Motives and Attitudes
Frequently evaluate the heart motivations behind choices to remain mono-ethnic.
Mono-ethnic churches are not universally prohibited or endorsed in Scripture. However, biblical principles concerning ethnic diversity and unity, cultural sensitivity, loving outreach, heavenly worship, and the supremacy of our identity in Christ should guide mono-ethnic congregations.
With wisdom and prayer, church leaders must faithfully apply these principles in their own contexts. When done rightly, mono-ethnic churches can still affirm diversity, promote reconciliation, humbly serve their communities, and bring glory to God.