I was at a church growth conference. There were several hundred people in attendance, and we were in the midst of a Q&A where a pair of famous pastors, experts in church growth, were being asked how to grow their churches in diversity.
The first pastor essentially shrugged and said his church was in a 97% white area, and so there was not much he could say on the subject. I was not horribly surprised by this, though there is still something that can be said about a church that is not reaching out to the marginalized in their area.
The second pastor (whom I'll call Robert), after starting to answer, asked that the video recording be shut off. He then said something to the effect of: "look, some people have their own culture and won't assimilate to yours. You can't help those people."
I understood the perspective; he was speaking from frustration, possibly with people whom his church had tried to reach out to. Perhaps he was responding to attacks he had received in the past about this subject and his ministry. But I was dumbfounded. How could he be so blind to what he was saying? Assimilate or you can't help those people? What happened to 1 Corinthians 9:20, where Paul "...became like a Jew, to win the Jews"? I was shocked, and also angry.
At this point a local pastor who was helping host the conference stepped in. He asked if he could speak into the subject. This white pastor mentioned that 30% of his New England congregation was black. And what he said was this, "it's more about who invites you to their barbecue."
He went on to explain that much of his ministry came from forming relationships and genuine friendships in their neighborhood. For him, the litmus test of knowing whether you had really become friends with people was whether you got invited to cookouts, Super Bowl parties, and family gatherings. It was out of friendships like this that this pastor's church had been planted, and the fruits were evident in his ministry.
His message, which we ought to consider, is this: if we really want to see reconciled relationships across racial and ethnic lines in our community, we have to become friends with people unlike us such that we are invited into their homes for these types of gatherings. If we do this in the church, we'll see an incredible change in our midst. If we do it with those in our community, we will breed trust that invites people to join us and investigate our faith and life together.
My friends, while strategy, worship styles, prayer styles, and other such top-down strategies have their place, let me ask you. Whose cookout have you ever been invited to? When's the last time you were invited to an outsider's party or home?
Perhaps there are barriers you are unaware of. Ask and inquire. Learn more about how the expectations of friendship are perceived by different cultural communities from your own. And let's pray together and ask God to pursue real friendships in our community, so that we can truly see the Kingdom advance.
- Pastor Mike