DISSONANT ADAPTERS & Reasons Why Churches Must Understand Ethnic Consciousness

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2/24/16.

In my latest book (re:MIX – Transitioning Your Church to Living Color) my co-author Mark DeYmaz and I show why it is important for all churches to understand “ethnic consciousness.”  Let me share a story that explains why this is necessary.

A student once shared that her church was utilizing (in her words) “bridge events … designed to bring people onto your campus for a non-church related event to have fun and to experience the people in your congregation and to demonstrate to your community what it is your congregation cares about.”

Bridge events have been highly popular, but often with less than expected results.  Let me explain why.

Usually bridge strategies do not work well across large cultural gaps.  That is because you are inviting them to experience your congregation, and unless they are interested in assimilating they will not likely join your congregation.

Instead Look at Different Levels of Ethnic Consciousness   

Ethnic consciousness means a person has a high degree of loyalty and identity with a culture and they do not want to lose that strong affiliation. Tetsunao Yamamori created an “Ethnic Consciousness Scale” to measure the degree to which a person identifies with a specific culture (Tetsunao Yamamori’s article on ethnic consciousness and titled, “How to reach a new culture in your community” can be found online and in Win Arn et al., The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook [1979], pp. 171-181).

Yamamori said those with a high degree of loyalty to a culture, have a high degree of “consciousness” of their ethnicity.  There is nothing wrong with this of course. But, churches and other organizations need to be sensitive to this, because if a person has a high degree of ethnic consciousness, they will usually prefer ministry in their ethnic style and pattern.

And, a high degree of ethnic consciousness will often lead to individuals resisting adapting to the dominant culture.  Those who resist strongly are called “dissonant adapters” and those that resist to a moderate degree are called “selective adapters.” And, “consonant adapters” adapt almost completely to another culture.

Now, this is not just relevant to ethnicities, because all cultures have different degrees of preference for their cultural way of doing things.  So, it would be best to call this: “cultural consciousness.”

An Example: Harley Motorcycle Riders

Yamamori suggests that all people within all different cultures, for many different reasons, have different degrees of loyalty to that culture.  For instance, a die-hard Harley-Davidson motorcycle rider would probably never be found riding a Honda.  This person who rides only Harleys might be said to have a high degree of “cultural consciousness.”  But, a motorcycle rider such as myself, who enjoys riding all bikes rather than a certain brand (or culture), might have ridden and owned Hondas, Yamahas, Kawasakis and even a Vespa 😉

The idea, and there is nothing wrong with this, is that some people like to identify strongly with a certain culture while others might identify less strongly.  Those with strong identity to a culture might be best served by a congregation that has a ministry to which that culture can relate.

Another Example: Youth Programs

Everyone knows that youth in a church want their own room, music, program, etc.  There is nothing wrong with this, unless morals and Biblical principles are compromised.  The key to remember is, that we understand youth have a strong loyalty to their “youth culture” and so we try to have ministry that is culturally relevant for them.

Check for Cultural Consciousness Before You Undertake Bridge Events

The same assessment needs to be done by a church before it hosts “bridge events” and simply invites other cultural groups (Latino/Latina, Asian, African-American, etc.) to its events.  Our events are usually too specific to our culture, and when we tell these people “Hey, come to my church.  You will like it” and our church is culturally specific, they wonder how can we be so out of touch with the differences in their culture. Simply because we like it, does not mean others from other cultures will like it too.

So, when planning to reach out to other cultures it helps to gauge the degree of a community’s identification with a culture, or what Tetsunao Yamamori calls the “Ethnic Consciousness Scale.”

Thus, when ministering to cultural groups that have a strong identity to that culture (i.e. a strong cultural consciousness), the best method is to find the most basic “needs” of the that ethnicity (or culture) and begin to meet those.  Do this in the name of our Heavenly Father (and His mission).  Then as you meet their needs, look for a local leader from their culture that can grow a co-congregation within your church that has ministries which are relevant to that culture. Then they will encounter your faith community first as people interested in meeting their needs, rather than simply attracting them to your culturally-different church.

See also the discussion on ChurchHealth.wiki regarding selective adapters, consonant adapters and dissonant adapters.

Download Tetsunao Yamamori’s “How to reach a new culture in your community” here: ARTICLE Yamamori How to Reach Cross-Culturally – Win Arn, ed. Church Growth Handbook