Archive for the ‘Changing Community’ Category


Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 1 A Nation of Immigrants

Monday, February 16, 2009

1952, East Los Angles, CA  – “Look Mijo”, she said to me in Spanish, “See that big building? That’s where your daddy is going to work!” I was four years old as I sat on my mother’s lap looking out the window into East Los Angeles. As the train slowed down through the community of Boyle Heights for its arrival into Union Station, I looked in awe at the massive building my mother pointed out – the Los Angeles County General Hospital.

My mother’s words expressed the hope of my stepfather, Roberto Serrano, affectionately referred to as “Bobby” by the doctors and medical staff at his retirement as a surgical technician from Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina. But in 1952, he was an immigrant from Mexico with a new wife, a son, little money, a sixth grade education, yet full of hope and a dream for a better life.

 The next decade my dad would work toward achieving his dream. During that time my mom’s brothers would cross the border one by one, housed by my parents until they got a job and were able to rent a place of their own.

 The story of my family is similar to that of many immigrants that have come to America in search of hope and the opportunity to achieve their dream. America is a nation comprised of immigrants and their descendents. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Remember, remember always, that all of us… are descended from immigrants…”

The present reality is that the majority of descendents of immigrants is shifting. Demographers tell us that by 2042: 

  • Whites will be less than 50% of the U.S. population.
  • Hispanics will be over one in four.
  • African-Americans will be 12%.
  • Asians and Pacific Islanders will more than double their 2006 population to 28.3 million.

A more staggering figure by the Pew Hispanic Center is that new immigrants arriving after 2005 and their descendents will account for 82% of the U.S. population growth between 2005 and 2050 as a result of natural increase (the excess of births over death).

Children under the age of 18 are expected to reach majority-minority status of just over 50% of the population by 2023 and 62% of all children by 2050, mostly due to the growth in immigrant children. 

The demographical changes in the next forty-nine years are shocking, but what is the demographic reality of today? According to a 2005 report by the U.S.Census Bureau, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas are majority-minority state, along with the District of Columbia. States on their way to becoming majority-minority are Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona. 2007 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that about 10% (302) of the country’s 3,141 counties are already majority minority counties. Another 218 counties are at the “tipping point” and in the next few years will become majority-minority counties.

So what is the pathological impact of these demographical changes on the local church?  It’s deadly. Dr. Peter Wager in his book Your Church Can Grow identifies the disease as “Ethnikitis.” The symptom is that the people in the pew no longer reflect the people in the community. The diagnosis is that the church will eventually die.  When we take into account the exodus of baby boomers from more densely populated to less densely populated areas when they retire, minorities will fill the housing vacancies but not necessarily the pews.

The churches in greatest danger of dying are homogenous churches that have predominately targeted a white middle class population. That is because their demographic is in decline. The options for survival are: (1) sell or give the facilities to a homogenous ethnic congregation and relocate to where your constituency has relocated. (2) Become a multi-cultural congregation ministering to multiple congregations in their language and cultural context. These multi-cultural congregations may be one church with multiple language departments, or multiple congregations sharing one facility. (3) Transition to a multi-ethnic congregation where the church has a diversity of English speaking ethnic groups. This list of options is by no means extensive. If you know of other options please submit those options in the comment box for the benefit of our readers.

If the homogenous church is to survive and thrive the people in the pews must reflect the people in the community.  The question now, is how? We will begin to address this question in our series, Reaching the Nations Among Us. 

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.


Is Multi-ethnic Ministry Biblically Prescriptive or Descriptive?”

Friday, November 14, 2008

“Does the Bible MANDATE the church to engage in multi-ethnic ministry? Or is it best viewed as a matter of strategy (or methodology) to carry out effectively other biblical mandates (like reaching and discipling the lost)?”  – Dave Hall, Escondido, CA

       While there is no absolute Biblical mandate, “Thou shall be a multi-ethnic church” (prescriptive), that does not mean that the concept is not in the Bible.  In fact there is substantial Biblical evidence that supports and illustrates multi-ethnic ministry (descriptive) in the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles. 

       Historically the ethno-centric church reflects a prescriptive nature established by society over centuries of practice. The Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. by Emperor Constantine granted equal rights to Christianity. Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, writes that this religious freedom brought about the “conversion of the nations,” during the middle ages. It “was effected or introduced by a few individuals, St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Columba in Scotland, St. Augustine in England, St. Boniface in Germany, St. Ansgar in Scandinavia, St. Cyril and Methodius among the Slavonic Races” (p. 20). In essence these missionary endeavors established mono-ethnic churches aimed to reach a people group in their language and cultural context.

      The Reformation continued to minister to mono-ethnic groups. Lutherans could be found in Germany, Scandinavia and the Reformed in Switzerland, France, Holland, England and Scotland (Schaff, Vol. VII, Modern Christianity, The German Reformation, p. 45). 

      In the New World the racist attitudes of many Northern Europeans justified by the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny toward Native Americans, African Slaves, Mexicans and later toward Chinese and Japanese institutionalized segregation not only at all levels of society but in the church as well. This act gave rise to the necessary formation of ethnic churches and denominations by minority group believers. Giving birth to the Christian version of separate but equal.  Equal within the Body of Christ, just not the local church.

       America has sought to break down segregation in our society through congressional legislation. The recent election of Barak Obama as President of the United States is an indication that we as a nation have made some major advances against institutional racism, prejudice, and segregation. Regrettably the Church still lags behind. This historical fact in no way implies that all ethno-centric churches today are racist. What it does establish is that our ethno-centric churches are such by historical default and not by Biblical precepts.

       Secondly, multi-ethnic ministry is not a strategy or a methodology to help carry out the Great Commandment (Luke 10:27), the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19, 29; Acts 1:8), and the New Commandment (John 13:34,35).  It is the end result of having faithfully carried out these mandates in an ethnically diverse community. 

Jay Pankratz, Sunrise Church Rialto, transitioned into a multi-ethnic church out of a commitment to the mandates of Christ, he states, “I had no vision for ethnic diversity; but, when I began to study God’s Word, the Lord’s mandates, and I looked at the ethnic diversity of our community I came to the conclusion that we could not be anything less.

Mile McPherson, The Rock Church, San Diego, stated that “God wants [his church] to reflect heaven…the more ethnically diverse your church is the more firepower for evangelism you have…”

       These multi-ethnic ministries reflect a biblically descriptive nature as depicted in the New Testament. Once again, not every local church must be multi-ethnic.  If the demographics of a community reflect only one ethnicity then the church will be mono-ethnic. This exemption, as illustrated in the Book of Acts, eliminates a mandate that all churches must be multi-ethnic. For example, seven of the nine church plants listed in the Book of Acts were multi-ethnic; Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:43), Iconium, Acts 14:10, Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), Berea (Acts 17:12), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:4, 8), and Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). Luke states that these churches consisted of both “Jews and Greeks”, “Jews and Gentiles”, and “Jews and devout converts”.  Only two, Derbe, a small town (Acts 14:20b, 21) and Philippi, a Roman colony (Acts 16:12-40) did not have a multi-ethnic congregation. But in the communities that were ethnically diverse and the Gospel was intentionally proclaimed to all, the church became multi-ethnic.

       If the mandates of Christ instruct us to reach all within our immediate community then expand that Gospel outreach to the outermost parts of the world, and to love one another as he loves us, then ask yourself the following questions.

  • “How is it possible to begin to accomplish the Great Commission by practicing selective evangelism in an ethnically diverse community and growing a mono-ethnic church?”
  • “Does the lack of a mandate for the church to be multi-ethnic nullify Christ’s Great Commission mandate to make disciples of all nations when individuals from those nations live in our community?” 
  • “Should the history and traditions of a local church or denomination exempt it from ministering to all in their diverse community? In other words does the prescriptiveness of history trump the descriptiveness of scripture?”
  • “How can the unity that Christ prayed for and the testimony of the church to the world be achieved in an ethnically diverse community if we remain in segregated churches?”

      The Multi-ethnic Church model, is certainly not the historical model of the church or incontestably mandated in the scriptures, but it is most certainly demonstrated in the New Testament and offers a better reflection of the mandates of the Father and of the Son.

That’s my opinion I welcome yours.


What Programs Are Necessary to Become Ethnically-Diverse?

Friday, September 19, 2008

I had the privilege of participating on a panel discussion at the Ethnic America Network Conference in St. Louis.  One of the questions asked of us was, “Share a brief story how your church intentionally reached out to ethnic minorities and included them in your fellowship.”

 Sunrise Church, Rialto, CA 2000

          Like so many first time visitors I was awed by the ethnic diversity of Sunrise Church in Rialto, CA. My first question to our Senior Pastor Dr. Jay Pankratz was “What programs have you initiated to become so ethnically diverse?”  His answer was, “None”.  The obvious follow up question was, “How then did you accomplish this degree of diversity?” I will never forget his response. He said it so matter-of-fact, “by being relentlessly Biblical.”  He went on to say, “I had no vision for ethnic diversity; but, when I began to study God’s Word, the Lord’s mandates, and I looked at the ethnic diversity of our community I came to the conclusion that we could not be anything less. The key text in the vision of Sunrise Church is Luke 10:25-37.  A man asked Jesus, ‘What do I have to do to have eternal life?’  He responds, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.’  

          There were no books or networks to provide guidance on how to transition a church.  Pastor Jay and other pioneers like him across the country learned by trial and error.  It began by embracing the demographical change of their communities. As the White population of Rialto continued to decrease while the ethnically diverse population increased, Rialto Community Baptist Church had one choice continue to reach a declining population that would result in a declining church congregation or reach out to the entire demographic of the community and increase the potential for the church to grow.

          What began with a vision took six years to become a reality.  Here is what Pastor Jay has said about the process.

I have learned three things about multi-cultural ministry

· It’s Biblical   · It Works    · It’s Hard

  • My first year, we drafted a church vision statement which said, “We will seek to reach all ethnic groups without distinction or separation.”
  • In the next few years, we were surprised to see some from other ethnicities coming and joining our church.
  • As the numbers from other ethnicities increased and some moved into leadership, the criticism increased from all sides.
  • After six years of difficult struggles and limited success, I nearly left the church.
  • We turned the corner during my seventh year when our people began to accept the multi-cultural mix, criticism began to diminish somewhat and the number of minorities grew significantly.
  • During my ninth year, we started being more intentional about including more minorities in all levels of leadership and utilizing more multi-cultural music and promotion.
  • By my eleventh year, half of our Elder Board were minorities.
  • In my twelfth year, we reached a point where we had no ethnic majority in our church or on our pastoral staff.
  • We continue to work on new ways to touch the hurts of our community that we might teach their hearts about the love of Jesus.

         It’s Purpose not Programs that guide a church through the discomfort and criticism leaders face when transitioning their church. It’s a commitment to carrying out the mandates of Christ in an ethnically diverse community. In the words of Pastor Jay Pankratz its being, “relentlessly biblical.”

That’s my opinion, I welcome yours.

Art Lucero




To Reach A Changing Community the Church Must Change

Friday, September 12, 2008

This post is in response to a question raised by John based on “Diversity is Not Just About Intentionality”

If the point of the article is that every congregation must focus more on the needs of others than on the needs of its own members, then shouldn’t “the church down the street” (presumably a Spanish-speaking church with Hispanic worship styles, Hispanic music, etc.) ALSO be urged to *change* in such a way that “people like John” would be made to feel “comfortable” there? What about the English-speaking church out in the suburbs that is totally devoted to new, “contemporary” worship? Must they *change*, too, in order to be able to reach the “traditionalist” folks? Or are the “traditionalist” folks the only ones who must do all the changing? If so, is that because they’ve had their turn, and now it’s time for them to move over so other people can have one? If that’s the case, then don’t THEY become the downtrodden “minority” group in whose needs no one takes any interest? In that case, wouldn’t it become everyone’s responsibility to *change* in order to accommodate them?

If “diversity” means that ALL viewpoints are welcomed, what happens if all the viewpoints EXCEPT JOHN’s are welcomed? Does that negate the commitment to diversity, or does it mean that John is just a “bad” person who needs to repent of his sinful desire to have his viewpoint counted (in a world in which everyone else’s desire to have their viewpoint counted is NOT sinful)?

Truett Cathy the founder of Chik-fil-A Restaurants and inventor of the boneless breast of chicken sandwich was asked why he was expanding his menu when it was his chicken sandwich that made his restaurants famous.  His replied, “If external change is greater than internal change disaster is imminent.” Bottom line, organizations that fail to change to meet the changing needs of their communities will become obsolete.  Chick-fil-A has annual sales of over 2 billion dollars I believe that by expanding his menu he was reaching a clientele  and generating sales he could not have done had he only relied upon his chicken sandwich.

A local church that fails to initiate the necessary changes to reach a new generation with the Gospel will eventually die.  People don’t like change even when death is staring them in the face and they are not happy with change agents. President Woodrow Wilson, said, “If you want to make enemies change something.”

People don’t like it when their pastors make changes in the church to attract their changing community, be it relaxing the traditional dress and grooming codes, shifting from traditional to contemporary music, dropping the denominational label in a name change, allowing more expressiveness in worship, changing the form of government or seeking to reach ethnics.

People have very strong feelings and attachments to their traditions. Just like John.  Is it sin if they don’t want to change? You decide.   A local church can continue to do business as usual while ignoring the demographical changes in their communities. But in doing so they put the preservation of their preferences over the mandates of Christ, essentially putting an end to their outreach and ensuring the death of their church.

You ask, “shouldn’t the church down the street presumably a Spanish speaking church with Hispanic worship styles ALSO be urged to change in such a way that people like John would be made to feel comfortable there?”

First of all people like John wouldn’t attend any church that doesn’t meet their standards much less an immigrant church.  However, I believe that every church red, brown, yellow, black and white whether American-Born or Foreign-Born has the same mandate, “make disciples of all nations.”

Realistically, not all churches will.  Those who attempt it will loose members who won’t handle the change.  The question every Pastor and church leader must ask themselves is “Do I base me decisions on the preferences of church members or the absolute mandates of Christ?”

That’s my opinion I welcome yours.