The Rev. Phil Hirsch, Assistant to the Bishop, and Ms. Christy Hartigan, Chair of the New Connections Campaign, are leading the wonderful workshop Building Healthy Multi-Ethnic Congregations. This workshop is supporting the two ultimate goals of the New Connections Campaign of getting 3,000 people connected to our congregations and raising funds for new ministries and congregational support in our synod.
Hartigan brought up a recent survey that shared that in the metro D.C. area, over the past 30 years, suburbs have increasingly become the most racial and ethnically diverse areas — this is true for the country, in general. Hispanic American population increased by almost 300% percent from 1990 to 2016 — Asian American increased by almost 200%. Areas east of the Anacostia remain largely inhabited by African American. These are all opportunities for our congregations to invite new members from multi-ethnic populations.
Pr. Hirsch asks the question, “Why do we do this?” He reminds us that this is a calling from God. A healthy multi-ethnic congregation is a better witness of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God – better than our predominately single ethnic ministry settings that most currently are in. This calling is reflected in the prayer of Jesus found in John 17:23. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me. God has created us as a beautifully diverse group of people, calling us to become completely one.
So what can we do about it? First, Pr. Hirsch encourages us to PRAY. He admits it’s not what he would thought to do first, but it’s a way of setting goals that will encourage us to depend on God. We can depend on God through prayer!
Another strategy is to widen the circle. We are encouraged to think about the ways in which we communicate with the people we know and the people we don’t know yet. Who is it that has trouble breaking into the ‘tight circles’ after worship? What would it look like if you spent the first 5-minutes after worship finding someone you don’t know and introducing yourself? Remember, simple eye contact and a genuine ‘hello‘ can go a long way.
Other things that are being brought up: Pay attention to the photos and images you use. Do they reflect the diversity of the Kingdom of God? What images do you have in your children’s Bible? Stained glass windows? Painting in the hallways or photos on your website?
Another good strategy that Pr. Hirsch brought up was the 70% Rule. This rule is good thing to consider when participating in the life of a congregation — remember that most all are going to like 70% of what is happening. We have to allow for things to happen that are outside of our comfort zone and possibly that we aren’t going to like. And if it is something we don’t like or are uncomfortable with, we have to trust that it works for somebody else — somebody who might be a different age, ethnicity, or gender, etc. — than us.
Be sure to check out the synod’s New Connections website to find out about continuing initiatives, upcoming workshops, and more strategies for doing God’s work in this way!