Mark Hearn serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Duluth, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta that is one of the most diverse communities in the United States. During his tenure as pastor, Hearn has led FBC Duluth to embrace multicultural ministry, a story that has been chronicled by The Wall Street Journal, Baptist Press and in the book Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry.
Hearn will serve as a keynote speaker for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s first-ever “Strengthen the Church Conference,” which is designed to equip and inspire church leaders to embrace and pursue multicultural ministry. Hearn recently took time to answer some questions about changing communities, First Baptist Duluth’s journey and what he plans to share at the conference.
Pastors and church leaders need to keep up with what is changing in their communities.
Communities across the country have become and are projected to continue becoming more and more culturally and ethnically diverse. Oftentimes, however, people and pastors can be slow to recognize or acknowledge how their communities are changing around them. What’s a first step for churches to recognize these changes and embrace multicultural ministry?
Most churches react to change like the frog in the kettle. A frog placed in warm water grows comfortable with its surroundings. So much so, that if the water is heated to boiling point, the frog will be boiled alive rather than jump to freedom. Our church was a “frog in the kettle.”
The Duluth community changed from a community whose population was more than 90 percent Anglo in 1990 to a mosaic community whose population was 41 percent Anglo when I arrived in 2010. In spite of this rapid diversification, ministries at FBC Duluth were pretty much unchanged. Pastors and church leaders need to keep up with what is changing in their communities.
School population data are public records that need to be accessed and analyzed regularly. Contact with city officials to discuss the direction of local government should be on the agenda of every church that desires to have genuine community impact. Statistical projections about community growth are available from most state conventions or discernible from places like www.citydata.com.
You mentioned how Duluth grew into one of the most diverse cities in America. What similarities might Duluth have with other communities across the country when it comes to changing populations and demographics?
Demographers are now projecting that every city in America will be a “majority-minority” by 2050. This means that there will be no majority culture in the city. Duluth became a majority-minority in 2008. Therefore, we were about one generation ahead of the curve. I tell our church leaders, all the time, that we are paving the way as pioneers on a path that almost every American church will have to travel.
Since we began chronicling our story, I have been contacted to share our triumphs and failures with others who are seeking answers to their new normal. To date I have led seminars or consulted with churches in California, Louisiana, Arkansas, New York, Georgia and now North Carolina. I have heard repeatedly a note of gratitude from pastors and leaders who thought their situation was unique, and no one was addressing their changing dynamic.
In your book, Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry, you share your story about how God led you and First Baptist Duluth to reach out and minister to your diverse community. How would you describe that journey?
One of the most encouraging verses in the Word of God is Galatians 6:9 (ESV): “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” The work of transitioning a church from a mono-ethnic, traditional setting to a vibrant multicultural community of faith is both challenging and exhilarating.
I have pastored FBC Duluth for just over nine years. Looking back, I can divide this tenure into three distinctive three-year time periods. The first three years were about casting vision. This was a period of discovering the demographic nuances of our area and forging a plan for the future.
The next three years were about grappling with the vision. While the early period was more about evaluation, this time frame was about education. In the interest of disclosure, this is when the idea of change turns into the reality of change and produces conflict. However, these past three years have seen the fruits of the vision.
In 2017, for the first time in the 130-year history of our church, the majority of our new members were internationally born. That amazing trend has continued and increased every successive year. We now have church members from 46 nations, offer our services each week in three additional languages, and over 30 percent of our leadership (staff, deacons and lay leaders) were born outside the United States. We truly believe the best is yet to come!
We’re excited to have you join us for the Strengthen the Church Conference. What do you plan to share with attendees to encourage them to pursue multicultural ministry?
We are bringing our entire staff and a couple of lay leaders to the conference. Our plan is to share the path of our journey and to give some “best practices” for all who are interested in learning about next steps. However, I want to be very clear that our story is less about emulation and more about inspiration, Every church dynamic and demographic is different. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” plan to become a multicultural church. But there are common principles and paths that can begin the beautiful journey to discovering church in “Technicolor!”