How a Los Angeles church cultivated a multiethnic ministry right from the start
By Patti Townley-Covert
Adam Edgerly preaches from the Bible. And that’s where he found the mandate for pastors to cultivate multiethnic churches.
“There’s a pattern in Scripture of God deliberately making His people a culturally adaptable people,” says Edgerly, lead pastor of NewSong Los Angeles Church. “We see that pattern from Abraham to Joseph to Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, and those in captivity.”
It’s throughout the New Testament as well. The book of Acts tells the story of the Church’s struggle to move beyond a Jewish context to the rest of the world. “In its DNA, the Church is a multiethnic community,” says Edgerly. “To do church without thinking about that betrays part of the story of Christianity. In its origin, this is who we are.”
That’s why from its beginning in 2003, NewSong has strategically worked on being culturally adaptable.
When hiring staff, Edgerly says NewSong considers not only a candidate’s professional qualifications, but also how the individual relates to a part of the community that might otherwise remain off-limits. The leadership team needs to be representative of those they want to reach.
So does Sunday morning worship. Research helped NewSong discover what its target audience listens to on the radio. In the beginning, the worship band rewrote the lyrics to R & B and hip-hop songs to reflect a biblical message, says Edgerly. Adding a funk beat behind Christian contemporary songs also helped create a sense of familiarity for the unchurched.
At NewSong you’ll find Chinese, Koreans, African-Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, Kenyans, Nigerians, Caribbean Islanders, and others from around the globe worshipping together.
At the same time, NewSong’s vision reaches far beyond Sunday services. This missional community of about 200 people works together to impact the world by using the arts, technology, business—whatever means possible—to reach the marginalized and unchurched.
After the leadership decided roughing it was okay, NewSong remained a mobile church for almost a decade. Meeting in hotels and high schools allowed the church to grow, but also brought some hard lessons. No matter what socioeconomic class people were from, they wanted to feel comfortable and safe. Problems with location, sound, temperature control, and a children’s ministry too far from the sanctuary weren’t appreciated.
NewSong also experienced challenges with cultivating socioeconomic diversity. Meeting in a senior center meant everyone had to leave immediately following the service. They adjourned to a local restaurant—until someone asked about those who couldn’t afford a meal. Better options included potlucks at various locations and setting aside funds for those in need. Now, housed in a permanent building, designated members watch for new visitors and invite them to stay after the service for food and conversation.
Community service remains a high priority and is an opportunity for this diverse community to connect around shared values and mission. However, instead of starting new projects, NewSong finds organizations doing good ministry and joins them.
Age diversity within the church presents additional opportunities for connecting. When seniors spend time with young people from different ethnic and socioeconomic groups, they begin learning from one another, says Edgerly. NewSong facilitates events that further this dynamic. A film night depicting cross-cultural friendships can spark opportunities for conversation.
Developing our identity
Edgerly believes such intercultural relationships incorporate critical components for their church because:
1. “We have a multiethnic directive by Jesus.” In Matthew 28:19, He said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” He also said to preach the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth.
2. “We have a multiethnic DNA that produces unity.” At the Tower of Babel, God separated a sinful people by making them speak different languages. But in Acts 2, He brought His people back together in Christ by giving believers the ability to speak the languages of nations. As a result 3,000 people joined the church that first day.
3. “We have a multiethnic destiny.” In Revelation 7, when John saw a panoramic view of what the Church looked like in heaven, he saw every nation, every tribe worshipping the Lord together. John recognized these various people groups because “we are still distinct in heaven.”
In their efforts to adapt to different cultures while maintaining biblical distinctions, Newsong likes to think outside the box. Actor Bruce Lee captured this creative philosophy by saying: “When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. . . . Be water my friend.”
“Water always stays water,” explains Edgerly. “The gospel and the church should function that way. The shape of the church and its methods may change, but the message of Jesus never does.”
Patti Townley-Covert (@PTCovert) is a writer and editor living in Ontario, California.