the challenges of traditional church in my neighborhood

As we spend more and more time in our new Boston neighborhood — in people’s homes or chatting in the park — we become even more convicted that the modes of evangelism that “worked” in the Bible Belt are moot on our block. (I’m growing more and more convinced that modes of evangelism that “work” in the Bible Belt — mainly the “if we build it, then they’ll come” model — have worn out their welcome even in the Bible Belt, but that’s a different post…)

One of the main reasons is the sheer diversity that exists in East Boston. There are over 56 nationalities that people in our zip code are a part of, and they speak over 20 languages. That’s one zip code in Boston.

As I asked in a post a few days ago, do we believe that God cares about the people of Boston — and the world — infinitely more than we do? Mateo correctly pointed out in the comments section a few days ago that though we often give this idea lip service, we seldom live it out. We rely too heavily on our own methodology or pragmatism. But Revelation paints a beautiful picture of a banquet at the end of time at which “every tribe, tongue, and nation” are represented at the banquet table of the Lord. This means every diverse people group from every socio-economic bracket imagineable. Not just “postmoderns” or college-aged or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or African Americans — the Afghan, Argentine, Spanish, and Ukrainian children of God will be present as well.

Do our current church planting/evangelism methods account for this great diversity of God’s children, many of whom live right around us?

We’ve been asking the question, “What would it take to see a vibrant family of Jesus in close reach — culturally and geographically — of every person in East Boston?” Well, for one, we need someone who speaks Khmer, the native language of the Khmer people in Cambodia, to communicate the gospel in that dialect while modeling the Way of Jesus in a culturally relevant form (there are 36 people in my zip code who put Khmer as their “language spoken at home”). And what about the 10,319 people (in 2000, mind you) in my zip code who speak Spanish at home? (from experience, most of these people speak Spanish when they’re not at home as well) And who is considering how the hundreds of Islamic people in my zip code will not simply accept a proposition about the existence and divinity of Jesus Christ, but will follow Him?

Believing that God will use us to reach a cornucopia of people besides the WASP types we’ve grown up knowing means recognizing that our limited methods and strategies are just that — limited. Can just one church reach all 56 people groups in East Boston? Can 10 churches? Can 100 churches? Well, if we redefine what “church” means, then maybe. If “church” means “radical followers of Jesus hearing their master’s voice and following His lead,” then watch out. This will take us among the East Bostonians from Greece, Guatemala, and Guyana, and to those speaking Polish, Portuguese and Persian. We will begin to incarnate the love of Christ among the people — all the people — that God loves so dearly, and transformation will begin to take place. God will add to his church those who are “red and yellow, black and white.”

The best news is that Steve and Chrissy aren’t responsible for making disciples of every person in these 56 people groups (and those are just the people groups as they are broken down by nationality … imagine if we broke down people groups in terms of interests, socio-economic status, neighborhoods, social group…). God added to the church those who were being saved in the Book of Acts, and we believe He will not only do this in Boston today — He will commission and send Khmer-speaking Cambodian Christians back to their own people to live out the Way of Christ. Moroccans will begin to speak of one from whom they do not need to earn their way to heaven.

Our responsibility is simply to listen to our Master and do what he says, going in love to “all the world.” For us, “all the world” can be found within two square miles.

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Note: Originally, I titled this post, “why traditional church won’t work in my neighborhood,” but at 1:07 a.m. I got up and changed the title to the one you see now. God is using several forms and structures of Christian community in East Boston to reach the diverse people groups here, and for that I am grateful. Diversity — even in ecclesiology — is beautiful. What I am calling for is a deeper and more imaginative faith in what God can do through us to facilitate the planting of “vibrant families of Jesus within close reach — culturally and geographically — of every resident of Eastie.” This takes faith, and it takes all of us.

You can see all the nationalities and languages in my zip code by clicking here, clicking “search by zip code,” and entering “02128.” I’d encourage you to do the same for your zip code. You might be surprise who lives next door.

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