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

DISSONANT ADAPTERS & The Tanning of America. Is a New Blended Culture Emerging?

by Bob Whitesel, Feb. 1, 2015.

Author Steve Stoute in his book The Tanning of America (2011) points out a new culture is emerging in America where “brown, black and white mixed together makes tan” (quote by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, “Steve Stoute’s New World Order.” Ebony Magazine, Dec. 2011 – Jan. 2012, p. 87 – attached below).  Stoute argues (see the attached article in Ebony Magazine for an overview) that there is arising a mixed Tan Culture among the Millennial Generation that does not see divisions based upon skin color.

I ask my students to read the article and tell me if you agree with Stoute, that a new culture is emerging.  And then I ask students to …

1) Suggest what the church should do about this.

2) Discuss briefly why they think everyone will become part of this tan culture or if some people will remain “dissonant adapters.”

To understand “dissonant adapters” read the paragraph below excerpted from Bob Whitesel (The healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart, The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013, pp. 69-70).

Healthy Church Cover sm“People from emerging cultures usually adapt to the dominant culture in one of three ways.”

Consonant adapters are people from an emerging culture who adapt almost entirely to the dominant culture. Over time they will mirror the dominant culture in behavior, ideas and products. Thus, they will usually be drawn to a church that reflects the dominant culture.

Selective adapters adapt to some parts of a dominant culture, but reject other aspects. They want to preserve their cultural heritage, but will compromise in most areas to preserve harmony.(1) They can be drawn to the Blended Model because it still celebrates to a degree their culture.

Dissonant adapters fight to preserve their culture in the face of a dominant culture’s influence. (2) Dissonant adapters may find the blended format of the Blended Church as too inauthentic and disingenuous to their strongly held cultural traditions.”

(1) Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut in Immigrant American: A Portrait (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996). They suggest that organizations comprised of selective adapters will be a more harmonious organization.
(2) Ruben G. Rumbaut, “Acculturation, Discrimination, and Ethnic Identity Among Children of Immigrants,” in Discovering Successful Pathways in Children’s Development: Mixed Methods in the Study of Childhood and Family Life, Thomas S. Weisner ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture: A Study of Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979), p. 113.

ARTICLE Steve Stoute Tanning of America

See also on ChurchHealth.wiki info on the related study of “ethnic consciousness” by Tetsunao Yamamori, who 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.