Friday, June 16, 2006

Why Your Generation is Made for Church Planting

A Letter to the Y (or Y-not?) Generation from an X-er (Part 1)

The church is a living, organic thing, which means it follows the same rules as other living things. It breathes, it needs food or fuel of some kind, and it grows. But just like plants and animals, it is possible to inhibit the growth of the church. By putting the right (that is, wrong) barriers in place, or taking away necessary nutrients, the growth of a local church can be stunted. And just like in plants and animals, malnutrition in the local church eventually leads to death. And we only have to look at some of the growth inhibitors of the last 50 years to see why so many churches are plateaued, stagnant or six feet under. The good news is that your generation has rejected some of the growth inhibitors of last-generation churches. Here are a few ways God has equipped your generation for starting new churches:

Your generation embraces racial diversity.

“Talking things over, they went on into the house, where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come. Peter addressed them, “You know, I’m sure this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this – visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other. So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. Now, what can I do for you?” Acts 10, The Message

They used to say that the most racially divided place in America is church on Sunday morning. That is not true anymore. The world has had good reason to criticize the church for our racist practices in the past. In one downtown church in a Southern city, I was told by a friend who grew up there that the deacons used to stand at the front doors before each service, not to welcome the right people in, but to keep the wrong people out! By that, she meant that this all-white church in an increasingly African-American neighborhood was scared to death that a “black” family might show up one week under the portico. They could not imagine a racially mixed congregation, a colorful nursery, or hearing the spirituals in the Baptist Hymnal sung by anyone other than straitlaced, navy-blue suit wearing, Caucasian, blueblood, white-skinned, middle-class Christians over 50. Needless to say, this church’s prejudice extended beyond racial lines to affect their views on women, young people, college students, Catholics, Hispanics, and lost people. Also, needless to say, as the neighborhood changed, this church experienced a period of massive decline. When I was contacted by their new pastor, a dear friend of mine, to assist with their transition to becoming a new, welcoming body, they had 200 people meeting in a sanctuary that seated 850! I am glad to say that their views are changing. The church sponsored a neighborhood festival and people of all colors, ages and backgrounds came and had a wonderful time eating sno-cones, playing games and watching puppet shows. One young couple came and asked lots of questions about the church. I visited with them the next week, and realized right off that they did not fit our old member profile! He was black, young, 300 pounds, and worked in a local restaurant. She was white, young, mentally challenged, and unable to work. What’s more, they were unmarried yet living together at her grandmother’s house across from the church! Both of them began coming to my Sunday morning College & Career bible study group. A few weeks later, they both accepted Christ. It was a joy to see the church (led by our college students) reach out to them and slowly learn to love them despite the differences.

Your generation doesn’t see in color. Interracial dating, friendships and marriage are scarcely issues for Gen-Ys. In your lifetime you have never known segregated schools, water fountains, or restaurants. White kids listen to 50-cent (not recommended), black kids listen to Eminem (also not recommended), and everyone (or maybe no one by the time you read this) listens to Jennifer Lopez. Jamie Foxx, Lucy Lu, and Halle Berry share the movie screen with Jim Caviezel, Antonio Banderas and again, Jennifer Lopez. Your boss, coworker, neighbor, police officer, doctor, college professor, or fiancee (pick one) could be Korean, Egyptian, Nigerian, Irish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Indian, Pakistani or Californian (pick one again). There are so many ethnic groups and mixings these days, who cares? You eat Mexican for lunch, Thai for dinner, and stop at the Asian market for groceries. You are not offended when the automated phone operator says “press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.” And the most popular sports figure of your generation (Tiger Woods) is a golfer who is African-Chinese-American.

In Theodore Geisel’s wonderful book, the Sneeches, Theodore (that’s Dr. Seuss to you and me!) tells the story of a tribe of creatures called sneeches who live on the beaches in relative harmony. Harmony, that is, for the sneetches with a star on their bellies. They enjoy campfires and marshmellow roasts and sing-a-longs and the comraderie of other starred sneetches. But there is a whole other group of sneetches without stars. They cannot come to these social functions and worse, they feel inferior due to their lack of stars.

But one day something happens to change all that. A peddler arrives with his star-making machine. For a small fee, he will put a star on your belly. All of the starless sneetches sign up and come out of the machine proudly displaying their new stars. The original starred sneetches are horrified, until the peddler unveils his newest machine which removes stars. Suddenly the “in” thing to have is a starless belly which upsets the now-starred sneetches who promptly pay to have their new stars removed. Soon everyone is madly going from one machine to the other, spending money and trying to keep up with the popular group. When their money runs out, the peddler packs up his machines and leaves the bewildered sneetches on the beach. The sneetches find that some of them have no stars, some one, and some two, three, or four. But they also find that when everyone is different, it doesn’t matter how many stars you have. The book ends with the sneetches finally living in real harmony, having learned the costly lesson that everyone is different and everyone has value.

Now, if you can keep track of who has stars and who doesn’t, there is a great lesson in this story. The days of politically correct racially diversity and clothing ads with five kids of different ethnicities are almost over. We don’t have to force that image. The fact is that North America is racially diverse. We don’t have to create it, quota it, or enforce it. We just have to embrace it. And your generation has done that. Congratulations! That loving your neighbor stuff is good for church planting, and more importantly, it pleases the heart of God.

So what is the advantage of an unprejudiced, nonracist generation in church planting? Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. In this new world, your neighbor may not look like you, but he still needs to hear about Jesus! And church planting missionaries who are used to racial diversity tend to treat people of other cultures like real people, not racial stereotypes. Your inclination to respect indigenous people groups, to treat them as equals, to love them, is invaluable to the church planting strategy of the future.


Blogger Sarah said...

It's about time we start "doing church" the Revelation 7:9 way! Every nation, tribe, people and language worshiping God TOGETHER!

9:56 AM  
Blogger Roger Ferrell said...

I'm with you! Now here is the question: how do we maintain cultural distinctives in a church like that? Or do we just create a new culture? What does that culture look like? I'd be interested in hearing the perspective of some people from other backgrounds (non-Anglos) about this question.

1:24 PM  

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