by Bob Whitesel, 5/21/15.
In a recent post I discussed how the word “assimilation” can mean something positive to older generations but also something negative to younger generations. This, it is often confusing when churches use it to denote their newcomer ministries.
To younger generation assimilation carries a negative connotation of giving up your personal cultural tastes and preferences. But to older generations it is a term which connotes positive characteristics of “blending in” with a dominant culture.
Subsequently, because assimilation can be misconstrued by people of different ages it is best not to use to describe our newcomer ministry.
In hopes of discovering an alternative term, I asked my students for suggestions. Here are two interesting postings from students about the term assimilation.
Student A: “Being 26 years old, I am kind of between generations. Plus I do youth ministry, so a lot of times I still get to feel like I’m a kid. When I hear assimilation, I feel that same uneasiness. From a church standpoint, when I think of assimilated drones, I think of legalism. I think of those in the church who have become cronies of the “rules and regulations” of the church, but have completely lost touch with the relationships. Much like the Pharisees, and much like the Borg, they all work with one mindset, and it just happens to be incorrect. I hate Star Trek, but I remember the episode where they tried to turn Patrick Steward into a Borg, and his struggle to escape. Having grown up in this culture, I am totally cool with being connected and in relationship, but pleeeaaasssee dont’ assimilate me!”
And then Student B said (Church name is a pseudonym) :
“Thank you, thank you! I have been saying the same thing since the mid-90s. In fact, I first heard the term ‘assimilation’ in this context while I was helping plant a church … while I was in my undergraduate program. The executive pastor, Chuck, spent a great deal of time developing a program for assimilation, and it always had an ominous sound to me because of my fondness for Star Trek.
In fact, I took a downloaded portrait of a borg, cropped Chuck’s face onto the borg’s body (complete with facial hardware!) and put the following caption underneath it: ‘We are Greenhill Church. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.’ Of course, I never showed that to anyone except another intern…’ 🙂 ”
Now, what comes to mind when you hear the term assimilation? And have you ever thought about how it is perceived by others? Now that you know about these dual and opposite meanings, what will you do?