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Multicultural ministry requires creativity, flexibility, love

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Christians have a choice in reaching out to the diverse language and culture groups in America’s major cities.
It’s a choice between sure failure and potential success.
“Do you make them take their earrings off before they come in the door? Or do you give them a model for discipleship that will change their lives?” asked Ricky Bradshaw, church consultant for Houston’s Union Baptist Association. He also is pastor of First Southwest Baptist Church, a predominantly African American congregation in Alief, a Houston suburb with more than 50 language groups represented in the high school.
Bradshaw led conferences during the National Urban and Multicultural Leadership Conference, Aug. 4-8, at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. He and other leaders emphasized that flexibility in methods coupled with an emphasis on the unchanging gospel message are requirements for effective ministry.
“We must tailor the ministries around the people,” Bradshaw said, noting the motto of his congregation is: “If we will care for each other the world will want us to care for them.”
He cited an unwed pregnant teenager who came to the church and received acceptance and love. She later married the father of her child and both today are Christians and active members of the church.
“I think Christ would be identified as an urban missionary,” Bradshaw said. “His style of reaching people was dining with sinners.”
In another conference, New York City church planters Linda and Larry Holcomb said healthy churches are characterized by open doors — to welcome the community inside and to send members out to minister and serve.
Four years ago, the Holcombs started the first English-speaking Southern Baptist church in Queens, a New York suburb of two million people. Planned to be a multicultural congregation, it was sponsored by a Hispanic church and has progressed from the basement of the sponsoring church to a rented YMCA to a storefront. It now meets on Sunday evenings in a Chinese church that holds worship in the mornings and also rents to a Burmese church that gathers on Sunday afternoons.
Recently, the Holcombs have started a second church that meets in a storefront at a subway station.
They listed four keys to effective ministry: pray, know the needs of your community, be creative and flexible and don’t be afraid to experiment.
And experiment they have — getting permission of coffee house owners to bring in music for entertainment and church member-customers who seek out relationships with others in the audience, conducting Vacation Bible Schools in city parks, having booths in street fairs and holding dialogues in public libraries on issues of community interest.
“One advantage in the cities is numbers,” Linda Holcomb said. “There are bound to be two or three who want to respond” to an event. “If we get one person to come from something we do, that is such a plus for us.”
Ray Fernandez, minister of outreach and education at Central Baptist Church in Miami, said in another conference that opportunities for ministry to multiple language or culture groups are “God saying to us, ‘the world is coming to you.’ It’s a challenge. It’s a constant learning experience.”
Churches often have a mistaken impression of the competition, he said.
“Our competition is not the church next door. It’s what the world has to offer. Satan is having a field day,” Fernandez said.
“We need to be creative in how to reach people.”

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  • Linda Lawson