Guest Blog by Jonathan Kindberg
I went to a quite enjoyable and stimulating luncheon a couple weeks ago in which a well know missional church guru and author came and spoke. His writings have had a strong influence on my missional practice and I was jiving with almost everything he said. As is quite common in these types of talks and settings, to motivate the audience towards action he began to talk about the decline of the church in the U.S. and how the U.S. will be going the way of Europe unless we make drastic changes to how things are done.
He didn’t mention anything about the growth of the immigrant church, though. At the end of his talk I spoke up and noted that the fastest growing churches in both the US and in Europe are immigrant churches. As an example I mentioned that the largest church in the U.K. and the second largest in Europe is pastored by a Nigerian pastor and that this is the case in other countries such as Spain. What was his response?
“Most of us would be quite uncomfortable going to one of these churches, ” he said. He went on to say how he had visited some immigrant congregations and that they are often “fundamentalist” and “are not impacting the broader culture.” They would probably die off in a generation anyway.
I was somewhat shocked by this answer and had to mull over it for a bit.
His answer revealed the type of Western Anglo bias, present in much of the “missional church” conversation. It is the kind of bias that Dr. Soong-Chan Rah challenges strongly in his book “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.” This kind of bias assumes that Western Anglo culture normative and the norm for the church. This speaker said that most of “us” (the room was completely Caucasian save one face and the dozen or so Hispanic waiters who were refilling our ice teas) would feel uncomfortable at these churches. This may be true, but this completely misses the point. The “us” (Caucasians) are not the norm. Soon Caucasians will be a minority in the U.S. To truly be missional, we are going to have to realize that mission by necessity is going to be multi-cultural. It has to be so much broader than simply Anglos planting churches among other Anglos. Conversely, it is closer to the truth that many Anglo churches which will likely be numerically insignificant and “die away” in a generation, as he put it.
A couple examples I am familiar with: This last year a Burmese church was planted in Wheaton, IL and began to rent space from a small Anglo congregation. Within six-months the Burmese congregation is almost double in size to the Anglo church they rent space from.
Examples such as this speak to a reality that many missional leaders seem to be unfamiliar with. This speaker with a couple comments was able to swiftly downplay the significance of what many consider is one of the largest recent shifts in U.S. and Western Christianity: the shift from an attritioning Anglo church to a majority non-white, non-western thriving church.
Jonathan Kindberg coordinates Mosaic DuPage. He is also the pastor at two recent church plants: Iglesia de la Resurrección in Wheaton, Illinois and Briar Street Anglican Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
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