Tag: the next evangelicalism

Changing Demographics to Impact Small Churches

 

MSNBC reports this morning that “For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.”  

But not only will this demographic change to a “majority of minorities” impact government policies, it will also impact small churches.  The article points out what we already knew:  minority populations are growing at a faster pace than the aging white population.  The previously reported American Community Survey had pegged white children under 2 as 51% of that demographic, but larger than estimated rates of minority births have moved the needle.  White children under 2 are now just below 50% of that group.

What does this mean for small churches?  First, small churches, especially rural or small town churches, tend to be segregated by race.  Obviously with a declining white population the handwriting is on the wall.  Small, predominantly white churches will either broaden their outreach or eventually die as their members age and die.

But, white churches cannot just say “We need minorities to survive” because that demonstrates a self-serving attitude that is not biblical.  Attitudes change slowly among older church members, but even older members can be led to broaden their vision, and begin to take intentional steps to reach out.

Most small churches will need to develop what Wendell Griffen calls “cultural competency.”   This involves an understanding and appreciation for the ethnic diversity of God’s creation.  And, it involves understanding that to meaningfully reach out to others means more that “signing them up.”  It also involves sharing decision-making, leadership, and authority.

Professor Soong-Chan Rah, who wrote The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, has excellent insights to offer in his book, and on his blog.  If you haven’t read his book, it is one of the must-reads for this decade, and will give you (if you are white) an entirely different perspective on how other ethnic groups view evangelicalism as a whole.

Add to this new perspective, the additional insight that now married couples comprise less than 50% of US households for the first time; that same-sex couples are now 1-in-10 of unmarried couples living together; and, that several states, my own Virginia included, will flip to “minority-majority” status in the next 10 years, and we have the ingredients for major sociological shifts.

What we do not need are shrill voices of doom using these figures and trends to forecast the end of society as we know it.  Social patterns, including family patterns, in the US and world are changing.  These changes present challenges to churches in communicating the gospel, and in reaching out to include a diverse representation of our communities within our congregations.

Zondervan Models Repentance, Humility By Pulling Controversial Book

Zondervan Publishing announced yesterday that it is pulling all the copies and support material for its controversial Deadly Viper Character Assassins book.   Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and others in the Asian-American Christian community pointed out the culturally offensive title and content of the book to the authors and to Zondervan Publishing. The company listened, and then did the right thing by withdrawing the book from distribution permanently.

You can follow this story as it has developed on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog by starting here and working your way back through his updates on this incident.  Professor Rah is author of The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity.  Rah has challenged other Christian publishing house gaffes — one in 2004 from LifeWay’s VBS curriculum, Rickshaw Rally, in which Asian culture is co-opted for a cutesy but stereotypical depiction.  Zondervan had another faux pas regarding Asian-Americans in a skit book published in 2006 in Skits That Teach.

While LifeWay did not recall the offensive VBS Rickshaw Rally, and actually was rather hostile to the objections of Dr. Rah and others, Zondervan did recall the skit book and deleted the skit that stereotyped Asian speech patterns in offensive ways.  Seems Zondervan is batting 2-for-2 in doing the right thing.

To avoid future mistakes of this nature, Zondervan’s president, Moe Girkins issued this comment, which I have excerpted from the full Zondervan statement:

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is to be commended for the courage, humility, and sacrifice they have made in righting an inadvertent wrong so quickly and completely.  Their stock just went up in my estimation.

Soong-Chan Rah has acted as prophet to the white-dominant Christian culture.  Like many prophets, not everyone has appreciated Rah’s position and some have responded with insensitivity themselves, further compounding and confirming racial and ethnic insensitivity by our largely Eurocentric culture.

Futurists predict that by 2050 there will be no majority ethnicities in the United States.  That’s only 40-years from now, and the cultural landscape will look much different.  The United States has elected its first biracial, African-American president.  The national Republican party chairman is also African-American, and the Republican governor of Louisiana is of Asian Indian descent.  The lone Republican vote cast for healthcare reform in the U. S. House of Representatives was cast by a Anh “Joseph” Cao, Vietnamese born congressman from Louisiana.  My point is that the seeds of ethnic diversity and change are already apparent in our culture.

Churches and Christian organizations, such as Zondervan, are awakening to the new reality that their congregations and audiences are no longer just white, but consist of a rainbow coalition of ethnicities.  This is the future of the United States, the world, and of our Christian communities.  I am reminded of John’s description of the multitude which occupied the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation — “from every kindred, tongue, and nation.”  We might add to the “one anothers” in the New Testament “be sensitive to one another” as we follow Zondervan’s lead of repentance and humility.