The question, “How can we get more people to come to our church?” The self-description, “We’re a friendly church”. The next step, call in a church consultant.
As a former director of evangelism, I participated in the above series of events on countless occasions. In many cases, the church, a mono-cultural one, sought to reach a more ethnically diverse population. To get things started, I asked one question, “What do you mean when you say church?”
Many people do not realize the vastly different expectations people have for the church. In many ethnic populations, church has historically been the place that advocates with or for them. For example, the Black Church has been the institution from which other benevolent societies were launched: credit unions, insurance companies, burial societies, etc.
Prophetic preaching commonly connected the need for social reform and protest against civil injustices with biblical examples of redemption. Woven throughout the thrust of each ministry effort was Israel’s deliverance by God from bondage through the Exodus story and Jesus’ solidarity with the poor through his Incarnation. The definition of “church” and people’s expectation of what a church stands for and accomplishes is an important first step for congregations to take when trying to reach other ethnic peoples.
The process of discovery and appreciation of another’s perspective can be summed up in the word “solidarity”.
Two Parables One Message
Jesus often underscored the solidarity theme in his teachings. Here are two examples. First, consider this contemporary rewrite of The Good Samaritan parable from Luke 10:25-37 that I wrote as a meditation:
Jesus tells us a story about someone who traveled through that neighborhood. We know the neighborhood. We drive around it, especially after dark. The inevitable happened, and those people attacked the traveler. Should have known better. Nobody with sense travels through there. Wounded and unconscious, the traveler lay on the street. A preacher late for an appointment drove around the traveler and thought, “Someone’s probably called 911 already.” You never know if it’s safe to stop these days. A leader in the church drove by, but didn’t stop. Probably thought it was a wino or a drug addict. One of those people saw the wounded traveler and stopped to help. Outsiders seem to know that tomorrow they may need someone to help them. That was a risky thing to do. Which one of these people do you think was a neighbor to the wounded traveler? The answer is obvious.
Congregations that want to become multicultural must be willing to weave the Good Samaritan mentality throughout its ethos.
Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Matthew’s gospel records a series of parables emphasizing the need to be vigilante as we await his second coming: the parable of The Ten Bridesmaids, the parable of The Talents, and the parable of The Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25). In the parable of The Sheep and Goats, we again see the solidarity theme emerge; if we look closely.
You remember the parable, the Lord returns to judge the nations, separates the sheep (the righteous) from the goats (the unrighteous). The Lord commends the sheep for caring for the poor and needy; acts that the Lord states were actually done to him. Jesus evidently identifies with people, the poor, the marginalized, the “other”. He feels what they feel; he is in solidarity with them.
Jesus often answered questions by asking additional questions. Perhaps churches trying to become multicultural would benefit from Jesus’ approach to learning. If your church is asking the “How can we get more people to come to our church?” question, the answer to this may found by answering the following two questions: “How do we define ‘church’?” and “How willing are we to be in solidarity with others?”