News Articles

Prof calls for creative approaches to reach culture groups in America

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Southern Baptists committed to reaching language and culture groups in America’s cities must lay aside traditional methods and use creativity and flexibility in trying new approaches, a seminary professor said.
“I found a lot of things I had learned in the Bible Belt didn’t work in the cities,” Daniel Sanchez, director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Scarborough Institute for Church Growth, Fort Worth, Texas, told participants in a conference during the National Urban and Multicultural Leadership Conference, June 29-July 3 at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center. Sanchez, also a professor of missions at Southwestern, previously was missions director for the New York Baptist Convention and a missionary to Panama.
He cited a group of southerners who traveled to New York City on a mission trip, expecting to do door-to-door visitation in apartment buildings. After learning that people were afraid to open their doors to strangers, they gained approval of apartment management to offer to paint the doors of residents. With the knowledge that this service was available from people recommended by the management, many residents received a paint job and a Christian witness.
To minister effectively in a major city requires a knowledge of key characteristics of an urban center, Sanchez said, beginning with the interdependence of systems such as electricity, garbage pickup and welfare.
“If one system fails, it affects all the others. If we know the systems, we can make a difference,” he said. Networking among city officials is a must for effective urban ministry, he noted.
Ministry in cities also can be overwhelming due to the sheer masses of people and the anonymity that exists, Sanchez said.
“People don’t know each other. They’re afraid of strangers,” he said.
Unlike smaller towns, people living in cities are constantly in transition, Sanchez said. A person living in an apartment one week may not be there the next. Also, he said, crowded conditions, traffic and parking lead to “a high level of frustration.”
While people recognize the diversity present in any city, they may not realize how much diversity exists in a small area. He cited a 15-block area of New York City that includes the United Nations where the powerful work each day and rat-infested apartments inhabited by the poor.
“There are many groupings of people we can relate to,” Sanchez said. “We need a strategy for each one.”
Sanchez noted the makeup of new immigrants arriving in the United States has changed dramatically in the 20th century. In 1900, 70 percent of immigrants came from Europe. By 1992, 44 percent of immigrants were from Latin America and the Caribbean, 37 percent from Asian countries and only 15 percent from Europe.
To make a long-term difference in the cities requires starting churches, Sanchez said. He cited six models for starting churches with language and culture groups:
— Anglo church starting an ethnic mission in its building.
— Anglo church sponsoring an ethnic mission at a location away from its building.
— Anglo and ethnic church joining forces to sponsor an ethnic mission.
— Ethnic church sponsoring a mission at another location for the same ethnic group.
— Ethnic church sponsoring a mission for another culture group.
— Anglo or ethnic church establishing a multi-congregational church where various language and culture groups meet at different times in the same building.
To meet the needs of people in language and culture groups requires an understanding of the assimilation process, beginning with the new immigrant who doesn’t speak English and whose relationships are almost exclusively with others from the same group, Sanchez said. This person will only be drawn to a church where activities are conducted in the language he speaks.
A second-generation immigrant generally is bilingual and maintains active contacts in his culture group while moving comfortably outside the group. This person may be drawn to a bilingual church, he noted.
A third-generation immigrant may speak only English or may be bilingual. However, this person may be more comfortable in an English-speaking church.
“The main task of the church is to communicate the gospel, not the culture,” Sanchez said. “However, we must do what is needed to communicate the gospel to persons from various language and culture groups and subgroups. Otherwise, generations can be lost.”
The National Urban and Multicultural Conference was sponsored by the multicultural leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly Sunday School Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson