Influence

 the shape of leadership

The Majority-Minority Fellowship

Moving AG culture forward toward true racial and ethnic diversity

Dennis Rivera on May 12, 2021

The Assemblies of God U.S.A. has been on a long, intentional journey of becoming a true multiracial, multiethnic church. In August 2020, the Commission on Ethnicity finalized its work on a document titled The Assemblies of God Highly Values Ethnic Diversity and Multiethnicity. This visionary statement outlines organizational and cultural shifts that can move us closer to becoming a church with no racial or ethnic majority.

As of 2019, the AG had 3,295,923 adherents, and 43.8% were racial and ethnic minorities. This is a considerable increase from 2001, when the share of minorities was just 29.3%. Over that same period, the actual number of minorities in the AG nearly doubled, from 773,406 in 2001 to just over 1.4 million in 2019.

This is a testimony to how far God has brought us. After all, among those present at our Fellowship’s 1914 founding meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, only two individuals were racial or ethnic minorities.

Multiethnicity may not have been in the DNA of our Movement at its inception, but a commitment to evangelism, church planting, and missions certainly was. Over the years, significant organizational policy adoptions have led to greater diversity.

Since assuming his position in 2017, General Superintendent Doug Clay has made it a goal of the Assemblies of God to become an organization with no racial or ethnic majority.

This aligns with national trends. U.S. Census Bureau projects that white, non-Hispanic Americans will no longer be a majority in 2044. And by 2060, minorities will make up 56% of the U.S. population, compared to 39% today.

The Assemblies of God is on target to reach this threshold long before the U.S. population, which would speak volumes to the current culture about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring people together. Hispanic people, for example, currently make up 23% of U.S. Assemblies of God adherents, compared to 19% of the U.S. population as a whole.

How Did We Get Here?

In our early days, the initiative for reaching minorities happened at a more organic and apostolic level, not from a central office. Local district leaders recognized what God was doing and responded by empowering and releasing people to go and plant churches in minority communities.

Over the past 56 years, five organizational resolutions have helped the AG grow to new heights in terms of diversity:

1. The first was a 1965 resolution on civil rights. It affirmed that “those in authority in political, social, and particularly in evangelical groups, have a moral responsibility toward the creation of those situations which will provide equal rights and opportunities for every individual.”

2. In 1989, the General Council addressed racism with the adoption of Resolution 20. Not only did it “oppose the sin of racism in any form,” but it also called “any and all to repentance who have participated in the sin of racism through personal thought or action, or through church and social structures, or through inactivity in addressing racism as individuals or as a church.”

When our Sunday morning gatherings begin to reflect the diversity of our cities and communities, the nation will pay attention.

3. A resolution on the use of Black ministries followed in 1995. It stated that “it is right that we repent of racism and ask our black brothers and sisters for forgiveness for failing to keep and treasure the shining ideal of Jesus and the 20th century Azusa revival.” It committed to “removing every last vestige of racism from our midst and restoring to the work of the Lord the blessing of an integrated Fellowship.” It also encouraged “the full participation of black persons within the Assemblies of God in fellowship and leadership.”

4. In 1997, Resolution 3 established ethnic representation on the Executive Presbytery and General Presbytery. This created two seats on the Executive Presbytery for a Hispanic representative from the Hispanic districts and a representative from the other language districts. In addition, it created a seat for representation by the ethnic fellowships on the General Presbytery.

5. The AG also established the National Commission on Ethnicity (COE) in 1997. It was given oversight of a national ethnic agenda for the Assemblies of God. The general superintendent chairs the COE, and the directors of Hispanic and Ethnic Relations serve as co-chairs. The active members are the 19 language/ethnic district superintendents and the 24 ethnic fellowship presidents.

Where Are We Going?

In developing and adopting a strategy for increasing diversity, the COE invited additional members of the executive leadership team, several geographic district superintendents, and a number of national office ministry directors to be a part of the conversation. Hearing from a broad cross-section of AG leaders was a priority.

The resulting six recommendations have more to do with our values and culture than with new bylaws. The goal is to move our AG culture forward toward true racial and ethnic diversity.

An important area of focus is minority youth. Because the ethnic/language districts and fellowships are a major factor in our future growth and church planting initiatives, the COE recommends that our colleges, universities, and schools of ministry recruit minority students to our AG institutions of ministry preparation and higher education and provide scholarship funding.

The COE also encourages partnerships between AG ministries to plant churches that will meet the needs of our growing multiethnic communities.

When our Sunday morning gatherings begin to reflect the diversity of our cities and communities, the nation will pay attention. Many people believe America has lost ground over the past five years where healing and racial reconciliation are concerned. We have come through some painful times, but God is doing something significant through the Church.

The Azusa Street revival in 1906 launched the great Pentecostal movement that is still sweeping the globe today. For just a moment, the Church caught a glimpse of heaven and what could be when the Holy Spirit takes control of the hearts of His people.

Frank Bartleman, who wrote as an eyewitness of the events at Azusa Street, said, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood. ... Divine love was wonderfully manifest in the meetings. They would not even allow an unkind word said against their opposers or the churches.”

I believe the Assemblies of God is on the verge of seeing racial reconciliation and healing at a level unknown in our history as a Pentecostal movement.

Ephesians 2:14 says Christ has “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” between people groups. As His Church, we must do all we can to build trust, increase communication, and empower people across races and ethnicities. We need to pursue theological, relational, and practical initiatives that reflect reconciliation and unity.

It’s time to go beyond doing church and really be the Church. That means taking the lead in dealing with social problems, broken relationships, and economic challenges — and promoting biblical justice for all.

This article appears in the April–June 2021 edition of Influence magazine.


Six Recommendations From the Commission on Ethnicity

The following recommendations were adopted by the AG Commission on Ethnicity and approved by the Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God in November 2020.

Ethnic Diversity

Every AG ministry should ...

  • Make room for all ethnicities to be considered as candidates for leadership positions at all levels
  • Reflect our multiethnic diversity in all forms of communication, images, music, messaging, and advertisement depicting life and ministry in the AG
  • Strive to include and mirror the ethnic demographics of their community

Ethnic Awareness

All AG organizations and leaders should ...

  • Create a welcoming environment to the multiethnic AG family at every local, district, and national event
  • Prepare, plan, and program for their presence
  • Maintain a theological and cultural awareness that facilitates the ethnically diverse expansion our Fellowship is experiencing
  • Sustain an ongoing awareness in multiethnic demographics, cross-cultural relationships, and ministry opportunities by providing pastors with ...
  • A demographic ethnic study of their community
  • Theological preaching, teaching, and training resources on the multiethnic church
  • Regularly published articles addressing ethnic diversity (Articles can be found at ag.org, influencemagazine.com, news.ag.org, ethnicrelations.ag.org, and hispanicrelations.ag.org)
  • Develop a healthy culture of trust by ...
  • Appointing a district Intercultural Ministries Director who seeks to bridge the ethnic diversity gap by engaging the ethnic majority church with language/ethnic minority churches and communities (e.g., The New York Ministry Network has placed an Intercultural Ministry Director on the presbytery. The position has no vote nor voice. They are now considering adding one language/ethnic fellowship president who resides in their network to their presbytery.)
  • Following the established General Council Bylaws, Article V. District Councils, Section 6. Language/Ethnic Districts, b. Equality of districts and c. Cooperative relationship:

General Council Bylaws, Article V. District Councils, Section 6. Language/Ethnic Districts

b. Equality of districts.

Language/ethnic and geographic districts shall have the same privileges and responsibilities within the framework of the Constitution and Bylaws.

General Council Bylaws, Article V. District Councils, Section 6. Language/Ethnic Districts

c. Cooperative relationship.

Both the language/ethnic district and the geographical district shall seek to promote a spirit of fellowship and cooperation. The language/ethnic district officers and the geographical district officers should inform or consult with each other concerning the opening of new language works or institutions of any kind, in a given area. It is strongly recommended that the language/ethnic district and the geographical district appoint representatives to serve with their respective presbyteries to provide and encourage cooperative strategies and relationships. The language churches, whether members of a geographical or language/ethnic district, are encouraged to unite where possible, in fellowship activities.

  • Following the established General Council Bylaws, Article V. District Councils, Section 8. Language/Ethnic Fellowships:

General Council Bylaws, Article V. District Councils, Section 8. Language/Ethnic Fellowships.

Language/Ethnic groups may be authorized by the Executive Presbytery, in accordance with Executive Presbytery criteria, to form a fellowship of churches. The fellowship shall exist for the purpose of exchanging information, facilitating evangelism, and establishing churches. Although functioning as a fellowship, the ethnic churches shall remain affiliated with the appropriate district. When a language/ethnic group recognized by the Executive Presbytery functions as a fellowship and represents a specific number of churches determined by and within a district, a presbyter shall be appointed or elected from the language/ethnic fellowship to represent the language/ethnic fellowship within a district. Leadership for the fellowship groups shall be approved by the Executive Presbytery.

Higher Education

All AG universities, colleges, and district school of ministries should continue ongoing efforts to ...

  • Create opportunities to expose, recruit, and provide financial assistance to ethnic minority youth
  • Encourage and invite college presidents and staff to attend district events
  • Special emphasis to our language/ethnic districts and fellowships
  • Ethnically diversify faculty, students, and staff
  • Invite language/ethnic districts and fellowships to college and credentialing days
  • Develop more ethnic diversity on school boards
  • Consider inviting language/ethnic district and fellowship leaders to serve

Right Relationships

The General Council and district leadership should ...

  • Develop relational-building opportunities among all districts and language/ethnic fellowships
  • Encourage majority/minority local pastors to visit each other’s churches, exchange pulpits, mentor, provide prayer, and financial support
  • Support efforts to help ethnic minority leaders to attend and participate in district and General Council events

Open House

The AG is more than a church — we are a family; therefore, as God’s household we should ...

  • Encourage congregations from every district to consider hosting new church plants in their building
  • Increase the use of cooperative and PAC church models to build relationships within the networks of ethnic minority and majority churches and to broaden the use of local church credentials as an on-ramp for the credentialing of more ministers
  • Seek to develop healthy churches that have an intercultural mission to break through cultural/racial obstacles, reach the lost, and have a multiethnic vision that seeks to mirror heaven on earth (Revelation 7:9)

Ministry of Reconciliation

Because Christ himself is our peace and has broken down the wall of separation and has reconciled us all to God through the Cross; therefore, every AG church should ...

  • Nurture trust and communication between ethnic groups to empower a kingdom culture
  • Pursue theological, relational, and practical initiatives that reflect racial/cultural reconciliation and unity
  • Go beyond doing church to being the church by taking the lead in engaging communities in dealing with social problems, broken relationships, economic challenges, and biblical justice
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