The Culture Around Your Church Determines How Best to Reach It

Radical Outreach

The contagion of culturally relevant Christianity and emotionally relevant Christianity are experienced fairly directly.  Take the case of a young man who is now one of our seminary students.  Eight years ago, two Christian friends initiated several conversations with him, and then they invited him to a youth service.  As he walked in, good news and hope were being celebrated through music that engaged him; the speaker spoke his language and seemed to under­stand people like him; and the message offered freedom from the “narcissism” and the “anger issues” that, as he reported, had “tied me up in knots.” He found himself responding, and he kept coming back, and he learned all he could; within several months, he was a man of faith.  The church’s culturally and emotionally relevant ministry engaged him directly.

Another cause of contagion, however, is experienced more indirectly.  I have called it Radical Outreach. This point begins very early in the Christian narrative.  Jesus and his disciples ministered to blind people and deaf people and lame people, to mentally handicapped people and possessed people, lepers and Samaritans, tax collectors and zealots, and others.  The establishment institutional religion of the Temple had written these people off.  Indeed, the Temple’s policy prohibited such people from even entering the temple.  Those populations, and others, were officially “hopeless.”  This is the point: Christianity was conceived in the radical outreach that engaged allegedly hopeless people. It typically begins when we visit their turf, and when begin where they are, rather than where we’d like them to be.

As the Christian movement spread to the cities of the Roman Empire, it gradually took a more institutional form, and in time became more like the Temple.  Rural populations were not urbane and were therefore hopeless.  The Goths, the Visigoths, the Franks, the Vandals, the Frisians, the Vikings, and all of the Celtic peoples, including the Irish, were not Latin speaking, Roman enculturated people. Obviously, all of those barbarians were not civilized enough to become “Christianized.”

This book of tragedy has many chapters, but we do not need to recount the whole volume.  Most churches today, in our nation and in our communities, assume that many types of people are unreachable; it would probably be impossible (they assume) for those people to become real Christians “like us”.   To be specific: For many (or most) churches, pre-literate people, “hard living people,” co-habiting couples, homeless people, bikers, Goths, jet setters, mentally-ill people, Mandarin speakers, people with tattoos, addictive people, introverts, and many others need not apply.

Perceptions, whether they are accurate or not, take on their own reality and, when acted upon over time, become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Using a metaphor borrowed from chemistry, consider “catalytic” growth. When an athlete takes in Creatine before a workout, the supplement catalyzes an energy source within muscles that permits two or three more bench presses, which in turn catalyzes more muscle growth.  In every society, there is an establishment population, and there are “fringe” populations whom the establishment people regard as “impossible” or “hopeless.”  Catalytic Christian movements begin when some of the “hopeless” people are reached, and some of those people experience transparent life change.  Such transformations catalyze spiritual openness in many other people, including establishment people, and the faith now spreads, contagiously.

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George Hunter

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comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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