Huntington University is a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana

Ministry grad studies path to a multicultural church

Discovers eight characteristics of a good program
Ebonie Davis describes advantages of online youth ministry degree program at Huntington University, a Christian college.

“I started to see how beautiful multicultural youth groups are and what each member brings.”

Red and yellow, black and white. It’s a Sunday school song about all of God’s children — all of his racially and ethnically diverse children. Today, a study by a Huntington University graduate student is discovering the best way for these “children” to all work well together in God’s house.

Ebonie Davis, a 2011 alumnae of the Master in Youth Ministry Leadership program, used her culmination research project (or thesis) to discover how best to improve her ethnically and racially diverse youth group. In her studies, it led her to five other churches across the nation and a formula for “Making Multicultural Youth Groups Work.”

Davis is an African American youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Waldorf, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. She has pastored there for more than four years and started on her master’s degree at HU in 2007. She chose the program because of the online accessibility which allowed her to continue her ministry while being a mom at the same time.

While trying to discover why God had sent her to an all-white, Southern Baptist church, Davis noticed more and more African American students were beginning to attend her youth group. A new issue soon arose — how to transform into a multicultural church.

“I became a student of those youth I was serving in an effort to learn how to best minister to them,” she said. “I started to see how beautiful multicultural youth groups are and what each member brings.”

A multicultural church is one in which no one ethnic or racial group can hold more than 80 percent of the majority. Only seven percent of American churches are considered racially diverse, Davis said.

Quickly, the experience with her youth group branched out into her graduate studies and her attempt to find the best multicultural churches in the country.

Her search led her to five churches in Florida, Minnesota, California, Arkansas and Maryland, her home state. She spent two to six days with each church, studying the methods of a typical week in the life of a youth group. Her study discovered eight qualities that characterized each successful program:

1. Intentionality: Creating a diverse church — staff and members — on purpose.

2. Cultural Intelligence: Knowing the different ethnic and racial groups that attended and offering classes to educate others.

3. Care for the Community.

4. Accommodation Rather Than Assimilation: For example, many churches incorporated various styles of music to make all feel welcome.

5. Relying on the Holy Spirit.

6. Humility: Many would share the pulpit with other diverse churches or set aside cultural worship preferences to make those in their own congregation feel included.

7. Koinonia: Fellowship or communion with other Christians.

8. Passion: Making people their passion (through love) rather than their mission.

“When these things were in place, (the youth) felt loved, they felt accepted, they felt like they belonged,” said Davis, explaining that one of the churches in her study did not exhibit these qualities and suffered because of it.

Davis said that she has taken these concepts and applied them — like all ideas and concepts that she has learned in the youth ministry leadership program — to her own ministry.

“I think it really answered the questions I had, and it showed me the things we were doing well as a ministry and the places where we needed to improve to better serve our students,” she said.