the shape of leadership

From Monocultural to Multicultural

Review of "Church for Everyone" by Dan Kreiss and Efrem Smith

Heather Weber on April 9, 2024

It’s no secret church attendance has declined in recent years. Some pastors worry pre-pandemic crowds will never return.

In Church for Everyone, pastors Dan Kreiss and Efrem Smith suggest congregations can see marked and sustained growth — but only if they capture the hearts of “emerging generations.”

Americans born after 1980 are withdrawing from church faster than older generations, but they aren’t withdrawing equally across all church types.

According to Kreiss and Smith, young people are less likely to stay in a “monocultural” congregation, where a single race or ethnicity comprises at least 80% of parishioners. They are more inclined to remain in church when they sense there is a place for everyone.

Millennials and Gen Z are particularly attuned to inclusion. Where these generations see a lack of diversity in church, they often conclude (rightly or wrongly) faith communities are exclusive.

Of course, diversity alone can’t solve the problem of shrinking church attendance. Kreiss and Smith acknowledge diversity for diversity’s sake shouldn’t be the goal. Instead, the Church should seek to become the inclusive, reconciling body of Christ portrayed in Scripture.

To get there, all churches — especially white-majority ones — need to think outside the box and embrace discomfort for the Kingdom.

If we want to embody God’s inclusivity, are we willing to experience the discomfort of seeking reconciliation with those unlike us?

The authors begin with a survey of our cultural moment and the values that shape today’s young adults. These generations appreciate stories and experiences and care deeply about diversity. They grew up in a postmodern world, which is often indifferent toward church attendance.

Technology enables global, cross-cultural connections, even as it isolates people from meaningful relationships.

Meanwhile, many congregations are not only homogenous, but inward-focused and consumer-minded. Evangelizing neighbors and reconciling across differences are not priorities when church is all about what the individual can get out of it.

Consequently, monoculturalism is the default in many churches. Overcoming it, the authors say, will take time and look different for each congregation.

It starts with following Jesus’ example. Christ ministered to the poor, individuals with disabilities, and people from other ethnic groups.

Jesus didn’t just have compassion on the vulnerable. He became vulnerable, crossing barriers to reach the marginalized. His people must do the same.

Kreiss and Smith provide stories of how churches in different contexts (large, small, rural, urban) discerned how to live as Spirit-led, cross-cultural disciple makers. The authors also present the major challenges every church will face in this endeavor.

Such challenges include a weak theology for inclusion; confusing Christian culture with white-majority culture; making space for minority voices; and church-growth models that focus on one demographic, such as middle-class suburban families.

The theological and practical meat of the book lies in Chapters 6–8, where the authors trace themes of diversity and inclusion throughout Scripture, from Abraham to Christ.

Kreiss and Smith confront readers with an important question: If we want to embody God’s inclusivity, are we willing to experience the discomfort of seeking reconciliation with those unlike us?

For white Christians, the first step is acknowledging the American Church’s history of racism and the ways it has impacted congregational formation and exclusivity.

The authors quote C.S. Lewis, who said, “A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never simply by going on. … Time does not heal. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit.”

Wounds of racism within the Church will heal only as we acknowledge painful truths of the past.

Further, we must be willing to see our own racial and cultural biases. Only then can true reconciliation — and inclusivity — occur.

For practical help in understanding how reconciliation works, the authors recommend the work of several Black theologians and offer an extensive overview of Brenda Salter McNeil’s Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0.

So, how do we keep the church in America from shrinking into oblivion? The  argument of Church for Everyone boils down to this: We must strive to embody the inclusive ethic of God’s Kingdom instead of clinging to the status quo.

If we do, emerging generations will discover their places within the multiethnic, reconciling, and purpose-driven family of God.


Book Reviewed

Dan Kreiss and Efrem Smith, Church for Everyone: Building a Multi-Inclusive Community for Emerging Generations (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2024). 


This review appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Influence magazine.
Don't miss an issue, subscribe today!

Trending Articles

Advertise   Privacy Policy   Terms   About Us   Submission Guidelines  

Influence Magazine & The Healthy Church Network
© 2024 Assemblies of God