We are learning to be a Multi-cultural church in an urban context. Here are some of our early lessons and experiences.
1. There has been a lot of prayer. It’s not that the church has wanted to be a Multicultural church in the sense of a gimmicky description. Simply, quite a few people in the congregation wanted to see a church that reached and reflected the type of people who lived in the community.
2. It is easy to settle for bi-lingual or bi-cultural. This is particularly true when you start to see growth from one particular background. In our case, we saw a significant number of Spanish speakers coming into the church. We found ways of making provision including translation and eventually the creation of Nueva Vida as a Spanish language service. However, we keep saying to people, don’t settle for this. It also means that we have to make tough choices at times, so for example we don’t always provide Spanish translation from the front because that would create a model that couldn’t be replicated for other language needs.
3. Language does matter because if someone isn’t able to understand, then there is a barrier to the Gospel. So, here’s some examples of the things we have done. As mentioned above, we have provided space for worship and teaching in Spanish (more on that below), We run ESOL classes during the week, we encourage those leading and preaching to think carefully about the language they use (true regardless of language mix), we chose a Bible translation based on its accessibility to those who are not used to reading in English (NLT). Our Sunday Night Church is café style which enables differentiated teaching and learning so that table groups can move at their own pace and discuss in other languages if preferred.
4. If you want to reach all people groups then that has to be a conscious approach which reaches all parts of church life. So we have made it a value that all of our congregations and ministries sign up to. This includes Nueva Vida where the lead language is Spanish but it is a language matter not an ethnic matter. People from different cultures and backgrounds are as welcome at Nueva Vida as at any other service.
5. Similarly, Nueva Vida does not operate in isolation. We don’t want to create a ethnic ghetto and so those who attend on Saturday are encouraged to be involved in wider church life. This means they will often drop into one of the other services and likewise others drop in on Saturdays. But church life is more than services, so joining in ministries, meals together, shared outreach are important too.
6. We have learnt that we can have a generalised view of a cultureand miss the significant differences within a culture. South American culture isn’t a homogenous entity. In fact, the best thing ever can do is to respond to people individually.
7. A host culture can risk having a colonial attitude. We do everything for immigrant communities. This is a wrong attitude and it means you lose out. We have gained so much from those who have come in from different backgrounds and learnt so much too.
8. There are challenges and strains. Different approaches and expectations can cause confusion, tension and frustration. Patience is important. It’s a great way to develop and grow in the fruit of the Spirit.
It’s worth it. It’s a wonderful experience to be part of a church with people from different countries, languages and cultures. All one in Christ Jesus.