Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All Things to All People

from Michael McKinley's new book on church planting:

"Not many books or church leaders these days speak anymore about the homogeneous unit principle—appealing to one homogeneous group of people. Somewhere in the 1980s or 90s church growth writers stopped using the phrase because they had heard enough complaining about it being biblically problematic. Still, they needed some way to target particular groups, so they began to speak in terms of “contextualization”—adapting yourself to a context. I don’t want to totally knock the good people-sensitivities involved with contextualizing. But the evangelical fascination with the topic makes me wonder if it’s just an updated version of the homogeneous unit principle: Pick your social demographic and appeal…I mean, contextualize to them.
When we start churches intentionally designed to appeal to a certain kind of person, we fail to heed the biblical mandate to become all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22). It seems like many churches want to embrace the first phrase without the second. We want to become all things to some people. The problem is, becoming all things to some people, say, by rocking the tattoos and turning up the music often keeps us from reaching all kinds of people. After all, wooing one demographic (like urban young people) often means alienating others (like older people or foreigners).

It seems to me that Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 wasn’t saying that he would mimic the people he was trying to reach, you know, with a ripped tunic and Doc Marten sandals; he was trying instead to remove unnecessary offense whenever possible. He wasn’t telling them to sport goatees, he was telling them not to flaunt their Christian freedom in everyone’s faces. He was encouraging the church to be sensitive to their cultures, yes, but by being sacrificial in its love, willing to give up things it might not have preferred to give up. To this day, I enjoy punk rock. I could flaunt the tatts and plant a punk rock church that took its musical cues from Stiff Little Fingers and its attitude from the Clash. But how would this show love for the elderly women in my neighborhood, the same kind of elderly women who welcomed me to [my former church]? It seems like we should intentionally plant churches that will, as much as possible, welcome and engage people who are different and diverse with respect to age, gender, personality, and nationality….

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But young people simply won’t go to churches where the music is not tailored to them.” That may be partly true, but it’s only true insofar as they’ve been in churches with no biblical vision for reaching all people. But what if pastors everywhere decided to stop capitulating to consumeristic demands? What if pastors taught church members to lay down their rights for the sake of people who were different? Pastor, are you afraid that if you tried doing this, you might lose some of your market share?

So then, what should characterize a church plant that wants to reach people from all kinds of backgrounds? Well, it obviously needs to show intentional love to people from different cultures. People from other cultures will know pretty quickly whether they are welcomed or merely tolerated as a curiosity...

Also, the way that we order our gatherings can impact the way international believers feel. Many of the brothers and sisters in our congregation from other cultures were attracted by how similar our services are to the ones in their home countries. The music is different, sure. The way people dress is different, of course. Our services may be quieter or louder than what they’re accustomed to. But Christians gathered in churches in Thailand, in South Africa, in Niger, in Guatemala all do the same things: they pray, sing, read the Bible, and listen to the Word being preached. The more we focus on doing those things, the more “at home” international brothers and sisters feel. The more we import ... pop-culture into the church, the more specific and targeted our gatherings feel and the less comfortable these brothers and sisters feel."

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