Thoughts on being a church with people from many different backgrounds

posted in: Hope Church, Tony Thompson 0

One of the joys, as well as challenges, of living, working and building church in Luton is its ethnic diversity. Luton is 3rd behind London and Slough as the most ethnically diverse place in the UK.

Being in a multi-ethnic context doesn’t mean that we will be a multi-ethnic church. As Martin Luther King said, 11am on a Sunday is the most segregated hour in America, only 7.5% of churches in America are multiracial, having 80% or less of the majority race. We are a multiracial church, we have not always been, but we are now. It is something we have had to work hard to achieve and something we value highly. It is not something we want to take for granted.

I am therefore writing a series of blogs on being a church with people from many different backgrounds, seeking to celebrate this!

Some initial thoughts on culture.

Culture can be described as “how we do things around here.”

Every group will have their own culture, e.g. Families have their own culture, such as having meals together, rather than in front of the TV. Churches will also have their own culture, e.g. style of music, standard dress code. Nations can have their own cultures but lots of variations within them.

There are advantages and disadvantages of generalisations, but we can’t avoid them!

People living in a new country can experience “culture shock”, my son experienced this when living for several years in India.

Stages in culture shock.

  1. Honeymoon – excitement of a tourist, identity still back home
  2. Disorientation – overwhelmed, sense of inadequacy
  3. Irritability and hostility – blame new culture for difficulties
  4. Adjustment and integration – increased ability to function and understand good and bad in both cultures
  5. Biculturaility – fluent and comfortable in both cultures

It is important we understand these stages when seeking to build relationships with people from different cultures. It is not surprising that people from the UK living overseas tend to live in their own communities, hardly integrating at all. It is not surprising that people arriving in the UK from other nations also have the desire to spend time with others from their own indigenous community.

We need to reach out and help people from other cultures than our own to overcome culture to shock, to move towards seeing the good and bad in both cultures. This is the great benefit of being a community of people from many different backgrounds, but it is hard work. We need to celebrate those from other cultures who are brave enough to resist the temptation to stay exclusively within their own culture and join with us. We need to listen to them as they bring critique of our culture, we need to learn from each other.


Written by Tony Thompson

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