Does Race Matter?: Your Church and Worship Style

Jun 23, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Michelle Townsend de Lopez

In my first blog we talked about language and vocabulary to open our awareness and start the conversation. Now that you have embarked on this journey, let’s delve a bit deeper and examine what our buildings and worship styles say to the larger community.

We love our buildings, the stained glass, the artwork, the music, etc. The way we have adorned our church and often the music we play gives insight to who may be worshipping inside and whose tradition speaks for that community within the church.

Too often, clergy and leaders in the church have not thought to examine these elements of worship and how they underscore what type of message you are sending. Our denominations have taken votes and written and adopted social statements on race, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, etc. Yet, the reality is that most of our churches are still very homogenous, resulting in a mostly white, middle-class, and heterosexual community that does not communicate the diversity of God’s good creation that we have proclaimed in our statements.

Given your current context and perhaps were you are geographically located, does your church reflect its entire community? If not, here are some questions to consider.

What Does Your Church Say About You and Who Is Community?

Sacred Adornments & Relics

  • What type of artifacts are present? Where are they? Are they still relevant and appropriate? For instance, European wooden sailing ships, ethnic flags—Swedish, Norwegian, or German
  • Do your paintings reflect only white/European people and landscapes? If so, why not a variety of ethnic/racial groups?
  • Does any of the art accurately reflect historical Jesus, the Holy Family, disciples & saints? If not, what message has been internalized and normalized?

Liturgy & Music

  • Do you use settings other than the white/European ones? For instance, does your denomination have hymnals or worship resources from African American or Hispanic perspectives, and do you use them in their original settings?
  • Do your choice of songs and music reflect a white/European context only?
  • Are other cultural expressions of music viewed as less holy or sacred?
  • Are other forms of worship elements incorporated, such as extemporaneous prayers, oral testimonies, altar calls?


  • Do your sermon topics speak to a diverse community or one that is more homogenous, heterosexual, middle-class, and white?
  • Do you engage other preaching styles like celebratory or call and response?
  • Have you noticed that you may implicitly be geared toward a white audience and that this “white” context is equated with what is normal, universal, and traditional for everyone?

Beloved colleagues, after seriously contemplating these questions on your own, please do so with your leadership, and then ask yourselves: what statement(s) are you making?

Is this what you want to convey, and, more importantly, are you willing to be more open, inclusive, and faithful?

Topics: General Ministry, race, racism

Michelle Townsend de Lopez

Written by Michelle Townsend de Lopez

Rev. Michelle currently serves as the Lead Pastor at Cross Ev. Lutheran church in Milwaukee, WI. She is committed to the execution of the purpose and vision of the congregation grounded in the Holy Spirit and social justice issues at the intersections of race, class, gender and sexual orientation for our community. She is responsible for various areas of ministry such as administration, communication, worship & prayer, sacramental ministry, pastoral care, elders/caregivers, community outreach, ministry partners and evangelism for all ministries.


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