HOW TO REACH ETHNICS
By Tetsunao Yamamori, The Church Growth Handbook, ed. Win Arn (Pasadena, CA: The Institute for Church Growth, 1979), pp. 171-181.
Almost half the population of America identifies with some ethnic culture or community. Yet, despite hundreds of years of immigration, the American Protestant church is predominantly an Anglo Protestant church.
American society has traditionally prescribed the response to the influx of “foreigners” into the U.S. as being assimilation into the dominant society. This assimilationist ideology has overshadowed the growth of pluralism among many groups in American society that have retained their cultural and ethnic identity. Various stratification levels have developed with patterns of majority-minority group relations which are defined around White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) cultural norms.
America’s ethnic realities more and more betray the assimilationist ideology. Ethnic bonds have always existed among communities of people maintaining their identity through race, religion, and/or national origin. Exclusion of an ethnic group by the dominant society generally heightens that group’s ethnic consciousness. Many white and nonwhite cultural groups have maintained their ethnic solidarity and, particularly during the last two decades, have reasserted themselves.
Anglo churches attempting to reach their ethnic neighbors may find it beneficial to consider the following models of cross-cultural outreach. Each model has its strengths and weaknesses. But they can provide guidelines for investing time and energy into the challenge of reaching out to a group unlike their own. In general terms, there are two approaches: the Assimilationist approach and the IDENTIFICATIONAL approach…
1. WASP Assimilationist Churches receive members almost entirely from people with a low intensity of “ethnic consciousness” (see the Ethnic Consciousness Scale on page 7). Those in an ethnic group who are socio-economically upward in mobility tend to associate with Anglo churches and are comfortable in them. For example, African Americans approximating Anglo standards are racially black but culturally white, and are often happy in Anglo churches.
Assimilationist churches attract certain people in an ethnic group, but will repel certain others.
To reach cultural populations that either do not want to become assimilated into WASP churches, or are not able to do so, a variety of other approaches are available.
2. Monoethnic House Churches. In this model, the Anglo church extends its ministry by creating house churches, Bible study groups, prayer cells, and Sunday school units among its ethnic neighbors. Several house churches may group together to form their own church. The newly formed ethnic church may hold services in the parenting Anglo church or may build a separate building. Rev. Robert Hymers, Superintendent of the Open Door Community Churches, has a goal of establishing 1,000 house churches of approximately 35 members, each with different cultural definitions. Six years ago, he began establishing house churches in southern California. Today, there are 9 house churches and 11 congregations which grew from house churches. Open Door churches include a Jewish church, a Hispanic church, a Chinese church, and several ex-homosexual house churches. Hymers’ method of church planting is through establishing house churches along similar ethnic and cultural groupings of people.
3. Monoethnic Churches within Anglo Churches. This model refers to an Anglo Church starting an ethnic service within its own building. A viable mono-ethnic church emerges through reaching unchurched individuals of a particular ethnic group within the locality of the church. This model differs from the assimilationist model through its emphasis on the development of a separate mono-ethnic congregation within an Anglo church.
4. Ethnically Changing Churches. Churches in ethnically changing communities often undergo spiritual, psychological, and financial difficulties due to decreasing membership, reduced budgets, broken friendships, and fear. Some members transfer to churches in a different location. Other members stay. Faced with a community change, the church eventually must make a choice from at least four alternatives: (a) stay in the community, (b) relocate to another location, (c) merge with another church in the area to pool its resources, (d) disband the church.
Merger or disbandment are generally not the best solutions. If a church decides to stay in a community, an important question should be raised: “Are the people in the church committed to serving the local residents and supporting the church’s new ministry mission?”
An Anglo church in San Francisco found itself surrounded by an influx of Filipinos. The community is made up of older whites, Filipinos, Latinos, and some Chinese. As the older white residents die or move, their houses are purchased by Filipinos. In this changing community, there are several signs of hope for this church that has decided to stay and serve its new neighbors effectively:
First, the Anglo pastor has a passionate desire to serve and reach the Filipino community.
Second, among the newer members who have joined the church, there are some Anglos who are married to Filipinos. These people are being recruited to serve as “beachheads” for home Bible study groups.
Third, an Anglo church member who was once stationed in the Philippines, and is still fluent in one of the dialects, is an insurance agent in the community and active member of the church. He has good rapport with his Filipino clients and is an enthusiastic Christian who is heading up the task force for Filipino outreach.
This church is intending to develop a reputation in the community as wanting to serve the new residents. It is intending to be known as a “pro-Filipino” church by inviting residents to sponsored events on Filipino national holidays. The church is determined to serve and reach its new neighbors, and eventually see the congregation and its leadership become indigenous Filipino.
5. Multiethnic Mutually Autonomous Churches. This is the process of autonomous ethnic churches cohabiting a single church building. The ethnic churches, including an Anglo congregation, all contribute to the “umbrella church” in finance, ministry, and governance. Each church has its own congregation, pastor, and lay leaders. Periodically, all the components of the umbrella church worship and engage in common ministries. Temple Baptist Church in Los Angeles approximates this model with Anglo, Korean, and Spanish congregations, as does Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene, which includes Anglo, Filipino, Korean, and Spanish.
6. Single/Multiple-Sponsored Monoethnic Churches. A local ethnic church may be sponsored and supported in its early stage by a single church or group of area churches. Rev. Yoji Sato, a Japanese pastor associated with the American Baptist Church, came to America in March 1984 to serve the southern California Japanese churches by filling various pulpits. He became aware of the fact that there were no Japanese churches in the eastern part of Los Angeles County, and felt called to start a Japanese church in Covina, California. The pastor and members of the First
Baptist Church in Covina offered their facilities for the place of worship, and thus was born the Japanese Community Church of Covina.
GUIDELINES FOR ETHNIC OUTREACH
Here are some guidelines which churches can use to be more effective in outreach to surrounding “people groups” of a different culture or ethnic group:
1. Abandon the notion that the assimilationist approach is the only right way.
2. Focus on evangelizing—not Americanizing—the unreached people in these groups.
3. Acknowledge the heterogeneous nature of persons, even within one ethnic group. Just as the Anglo culture has many socio-economic, linguistic, generational, and geographic differences, so does every ethnic community.
4. Recruit and train indigenous full-time and part-time lay ministers to mobilize laity for cross-cultural outreach.
5. Utilize the strong ethnic communal ties (friendship and kinship] in the mission of spreading the gospel.
6. Connect with para-church organizations dedicated to ethnic outreach (i.e., missionary organizations working within the U.S. that have the specific purpose of reaching unchurched cultures and ethnic groups in the U.S.).
7. Start numerous ethnic churches, Sunday school classes, and evangelistic home Bible study fellowships.
8. Use the indigenous (heart) language of the ethnic people.
9. Hire a qualified church staff person from the ethnic/cultural group.
10. Conduct research to identify the responsive, as well as the resistant, areas within your target ethnic group and sub-groups.
11. Encourage short-term and long-range goals for cross-cultural outreach at judicatory and denominational levels.
12. Pray that the Holy Spirit will empower your church to realize the lostness of every person without Christ and to act decisively for cross-cultural outreach and evangelism.
WHICH APPROACH IS BEST?
Given America’s ethnic realities, what can churches do to reach people who are in their geographical community but in a different cultural culture? As noted earlier, there are two basic strategies. One is the assimilationist approach. This is the traditional method of Anglo churches attempting to integrate ethnic minorities into their membership.
The other approach to cross-cultural outreach is the identificational approach. It affirms the development of distinct mono-ethnic churches and missions. This approach is becoming increasingly popular and effective.The assimilationist approach is most effective with people who have a low degree of ethnic consciousness, and is least effective among people with a high degree of ethnic consciousness.
The various identificational models, on the other hand, are most effective among people groups with a moderate to high ethnic consciousness level. “Ethnic consciousness” is the intensity of awareness of one’s distinct people-hood based on race, religion, and/or national origin.
To help identify the relative intensity of ethnic consciousness among a particular cultural group, and therefore establish the approach that will be most successful, consider each of the indices on the “Ethnic Consciousness Scale” on the following page. Determine a point on the continuums that most accurately reflects each characteristic of the ethnic group in your ministry area. If the general trend of the responses is toward the left end of the scales, the assimilationist approach to reaching this ethnic group will generally be more productive.
If, however, the majority of characteristics trend toward the center or right end of the scales, one or a combination of the identificational approaches to reaching this ethnic group will be more successful. Use this typology as a “snapshot” of the particular target group you are trying to reach as you begin planning strategy for effective outreach and church growth.
ETHNIC CONSCIOUSNESS SCALE
Tetsunao Yamamori, The Church Growth Handbook, ed. Win Arn (Pasadena, CA: Church Growth Press, 1979), p. 184.
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