Rev. Mark Adrian, Pastor/Missionary
"Where there is growth in American Christian denominations, it is driven mostly by nonwhites, whether Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or mainline. Over the past half century, 71 percent of growth in Catholicism, for instance, has come from its Hispanic community. In the Assemblies of God, one of the few U.S. denominations to show overall growth, white membership slightly declined while nonwhite membership increased by 43 percent over 10 years." Wesley Granberg-Michaelson*
The most important mission for a church in America is reaching an ethnic group different from their own. We are in the midst of a great change - from a time not so long ago when eighty percent of the people in America were White English speaking to a time not so far away when White English speaking people will be less than fifty percent of the population in America.
Pr. Mark Adrian is the pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Tampa, Florida. His congregation has been successful in reaching out to their increasingly Spanish speaking neighbors. Pr. Adrian and Wesley Granger-Michaelson know this: unless an Anglo (White English speaking) church is reaching an ethnic group different from its own it is contributing to the demise of the church in America.
The same could be said for a homogeneous African American, Korean or other congregation. And we are not talking only about numbers. As Granberg-Michaelson says in the same article, ""Multiracial congregations are expanding to draw 1 in 5 churchgoing Americans, and surveys report a higher level of spiritual vitality among them compared with racially homogeneous congregations."
Pr. Adrian inherited his multi-ethnic mission. Previous leaders took the initial risk to call someone to help them reach Spanish speaking people in their community - a wise thing to do in Tampa, Florida, where 20% of the population speaks Spanish. Pr. Adrian came to Messiah Tampa partly because he wanted to be on the forefront of God's mission to America.
I asked Pr. Adrian what his advice would be for a congregation that wanted to reach out to an ethnic group different from their own. This is what he said:
Listen to God, and listen to the people of the new group you want to reach. Do not lay your ideas on the new ministry. How I would have proceeded is very different from the way those doing the work want to reach a new ethnic group for Christ.
Take time to see who is a leader in the new group. Do not make that decision quickly or lightly. Who reflects the image of Christ, is spiritually and emotionally mature? Who among the new group has ideas the rest want to implement, and can lead the group from a vision to reality? Who is willing and able to invest four or more in a process to become certified to lead Christ's people? This takes time to discover.
Be prepared to sacrifice. The original church should realize they will have to give up some things, and this will cause consternation among the members. This can be managed if the people are mature Christians, and proceed in love, ready to forgive.
Realize one of the things you will have to sacrifice is space. Messiah does not have a large plant and at one point had to rearrange their times of worship so the new Spanish speaking service could succeed. In fact, the initiating church should be ready to give the new people priority for using the space. Sacrifice. It is not just a word, and to be taken lightly.
Speaking more about sacrifice, the new group may need financial support, at least for a while. The original church should allow the new group to fund raise among the sponsoring church's members. But the group can and should be encouraged to develop resources as much as possible from among themselves, as well as finding support from other groups.
According to Pr. Adrian, in the end there are many more blessings than sacrifices! The mothering congregation will learn about its community, and will find the new group may be even more ready to join in projects at the church than members who have been longer at the church. In his experience, the new ethnic members are more willing than many to help - help each other and help those in the mother church.
It was not our Lord's intention that His Body be divided into separate pieces defined by language, culture or skin color. His Great Commission Promise sent the church to every nation, to every ethnic group - as difficult as it was for Peter and the other early leaders to accept.
The most important mission in America today is for a church to reach an ethnic group different from their own. If it takes a miracle, maybe a sheet coming down out of heaven with strange food on it to open our eyes, so be it. However I would pray that we would be motivated by His Word alone.
Can the face of the church look more like the changing face of America, better still, more like the face of heaven as John describes in Revelations 7:9?
*Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, RNS, January 10, 2019. See the full article here https://religionnews.com/2019/01/10/where-is-christianity-headed-the-view-from-2019/
Listen to an excerpt from Pastor Adrians story:
The complete interview with Pastor Mark Adrian.