Factors in Assimilation

Factors in Assimilation

By Joseph P. Smith

©2013 Joseph P. Smith

We often assume that the issues that affect whether a new convert will be successfully assimilated into a local church are primarily spiritual. If assimilation does not happen, some will even question the effectiveness of the evangelist, or the reality of the conversion. But studies have shown that the primary obstacle to assimilation is culture.

Our enemy would like us to think differently. But there is a big difference between what it takes to reach a man's heart and what it takes to make him comfortable with some arm of the body of Christ.

Some observers even suggest that healthy local churches should never try to reach more than one culture. It's called the homogeneous church principle. And they tend to define homogeneous groups in North America in terms of the model shown." Note that while there are four factors that are drawn from an individual ethnic group, there are only three drawn from his social class. Assimilation factor has to do with how readily a group assimilates into its environs. For instance, Chinese immigrants assimilate so readily that first generation immigrants often can’t stand third generation immigrants. On the other hand, people of Dutch origin do not assimilate at all. In the metropolitan statistical area of Grand Rapids, Michigan, about 60% report having a single Dutch ancestry, while among mixed ancestries those with some Dutch ancestry are statistically insignificant.

             While we could take some time to develop this, I will take the short cut to assert that in evangelism and follow-up, taking notice of cultural differences is vital, because of

two issues, acceptance and communication. An odd but true definition of culture is that culture is all the things that people who share a culture don't need to tell each other, that they silently agree on. Thus, people who approach life with a different cultural lens may question the sincerity of those who see things differently. And things will be said that leave the other reading between the lines, (a process the devil loves to aid), because they don't share common assumptions.

So without uncritically buying the homogeneous church principle, we need to study cultural differences so we can get beyond the barriers of acceptance and communication.

People always think of an axis between "we" and "them." Here are more factors that create this polarization.

Common Educational Experiences

Common Work Experiences

Common Living Challenges

Common History

Common Jargon

Common Value Systems

Common Ethical Bases

Common Worship Forms

Common Identity Concepts

People who cannot relate on some of these issues, may on others. Each common element provides an incremental opportunity for bonding. The intensity of the interaction depends on the quantity and quality of these bonds. This intensity can be described as a continuum from indifference to intimacy.

A deceptive thing about small towns is that people in all walks of life, all sectors of the ethclass model, are cordial. This tends to mask real cultural differences. The actual small town continuum starts at cordiality. 

Another limiting factor is that small town living does not allow for what I call "temporary intimacy." In areas where everybody knows everybody and "everybody knows your business" privacy is difficult to achieve. In a metropolitan area, we tend to use two criteria to decide with whom we will share ourselves. They are, "Can I trust him to be discrete?" and, "If he blabs, can I avoid him and those he talks to afterward. " Those criteria allow us to confide things to people less related to us than small town people will. They know that once the “cat's out of the bag" they will have to face the people who know regularly for the rest of their lives. So while the continuum of levels of interaction in smalltown settings starts with cordiality, it often ends there, too.

Another factor affecting assimilation in small town churches is that the Pastor usually has fewer of these bonds than anyone in the community. He's a "hired gun," an outsider specialist. He's out of his own cultural "comfort zone" and may tend, as most of us do, to look down on the local culture. At any given time, well more than half of the small town churches are being pastored by people who are not small town in their roots and not comfortable in small town culture. And chances are, if the Pastor with small town roots goes to Seminary in the city, he will be deliberately deculturized.. We do not train them as missionaries, but they are. And often, they do not even understand that the conflict they experience is cultural. Too often, both the "Pastor outsider" and the "parishioner insider" wonder if the strain they have isn't from the other's spiritual immaturity!

Our point here is that homogeneity isn't a simple issue. The principle is right, but it really isn't a principle, it needs sharpening. Small town churches already have less homogeneity in them than small city churches. If they are to grow, homogeneity is a luxury they can't afford. The pool for outreach is too limited, the perceived homogeneous units of the community are too small for organizational viability, and it does not help to train a small town pastor to think he can show benign neglect of anyone in his community!

I want to examine the factors listed to show you how they affect the bonding of people,            the we/they axis.

The Experience Factors

I grew up in a time when every school day began with the pledge of allegiance, a reading            from the Bible, and prayer. We had ample time for recess recreation, and it was always unsupervised. Education consisted of a great concentration on the memorization of facts, and was not much involved, (until I got to High School debate) in learning to reason or evaluate.

How different that is from the experience of the city child today! In 1992, not one elementary public school in St. Paul got through the year without a shooting incident. Why can't we grasp that the person who walks through metal detectors on the way into school every day emerges a different person than I am! It isn't what he is taught that makes him "different." It's what he experiences.

We weren't farmers, but I hoed corn, weeded carrots, pulled radishes, and skinned scallions in my first paying jobs. My father considered giving a child the sole care of an animal an essential part of training and growth. Most of our work experience was lonely, supervision was not often simultaneous, but involved after-the-fact evaluation. As a result, I still don't like to work in crowded offices, hate to be micro-managed, expect to be allowed to figure my own way to get things done, and can't stand to be watched over my shoulder.

Northern Minnesotans cheerfully face weather that scares others out of their skin. I laugh when I see chamber of commerce pictures of winter "fun." Somehow the 60° below wind chills don't show in the pictures.

Facing floods is part of the common experience of the Mississippi valley people. Outsiders wonder why they don't just move to higher ground. But actually, the floods of '93 have shown that the adversity is part of the bonding process.

The outcome of these experiences is that they accumulate in the person, and they shape him. My growing experiences caused me to be idealistic. The street-wise kid is cynical. I expected people to behave by the rules. He assumes they are hypocritical. I respected ideals as worth more than life. He "knows" that survival is the bottom line. We don't have much in common.

Some will assume that the sum of these experience factors is the history factor, but experience is only part of it. Read on, my friend.

The Factor of History

The things small town people have in common with the rest of their community most often are not just the events they have shared together, but those they "own" together. What separates the insider from the outsider in the "thumb" of Michigan, is their memory of the great fire. The whole "thumb" burned! Of course, it happened more than 100 years ago, but their families were there. If you can't relate to the "truth" they all know from their family history of the fire, you're an outsider. You're not part of the "we" but of the "they." So history goes beyond personal experience, and concerns a sense of "our" story.

Where I had my first pastorate, people related to me how their families used to shop for groceries in the Montgomery Ward catalogue. The order included only staples, and was sent to them by railway express. They would shop twice a year.

One of the ladies in the church came from Chicago. She would buy her supper entree at the grocery store every afternoon. The natives thought she was silly, improvident, unable to plan, and really, just odd. It never occurred to them that those days a person didn't need to plan their food purchases 6 months ahead. They despised the hand-to-mouth idea of shopping every day. Besides, it wasted time.

The widow from Chicago had plenty of time. She needed to get out. The walking did her good, and beside, it would have been hard for her to handle a large grocery order because she walked.

The reasons for the attitudes of my people toward her had little to do with their experience, but a lot to do with "their" history. The dynamic that shaped their attitudes came from an era the rest of the world forgot. 

The Jargon Factor

If you want some delightful reading, try Howard Mohr's "How to talk Minnesotan." It's a tongue-in-cheek look at local jargon. It's intentional comedy, but there's a lot of serious stuff in that book. No one can survive in Minnesota who doesn't understand that "you betcha" has nothing to do with gambling!

My father met a West Virginia potato farmer who described his crop with, "I raised a heap, sold a lot, and had a right smart left." The first time I heard it, the juxtaposition of right and left made me think of directions!

Many writers make the point that the common experience of television is moderating regional differences in speech. It is my hope that you do not overestimate this. The truth is that most people don't talk to the television. That means we "receive" this "culturally neutral" speech better than we "transmit" it. And in the small town setting, the use of this in ordinary conversation seems as out of place as the woman who shops for groceries in her bathing suit.

People invest a lot of emotional content in certain culturally common adjectives. Large, big, even huge, are not equivalents for humongous. And in the other direction, "grid locked" contains little emotional content to the farmer.

The Value Systems Factor

On the Thomas-Killman scale, small town people measure higher in concern for relationships than concern for principle. People who care passionately about issues often shrink from pressing them publicly because survival demands "getting along."

But this is only one value issue. Small town people value creative solutions where city folks want solutions to conform to norms. Farmers value "hands dirty" workers; urbanites think they are second class. Personal worth is measured in cash income in town, but in cash conservation in the country.

A very intelligent pastor from a small town setting really stirred his city congregation when he nurtured 3 orphaned piglets to independent viability in his living room. His parishioners would have let them starve. To him, that would have been insensitive, dumb, even immoral. To them, what he did was called "hick."

Common Ethical Bases 

Many Americans today, especially educators, project mores as consensus ethics, when in reality people behave the same way for different reasons. Values result in ethics. What seems equal and is equal the majority of the time, may have a different base. Middle to upper class urbanites see savings as their ultimate survival safety net. They talk about achieving "financial security." The working poor and most third world people see the extended family as security. That's why the rich get richer and the poor get children!

The director of a wonderful Christian enterprise asked me to explain why I endorsed as financially responsible, a man who had been taken to court to collect for unpaid debt six times. I had to point out that all six times he had co-signed a loan for a relative who couldn't repay. In his culture, it is simply disgraceful to turn down a relative! In mine, it is disgraceful to be taken to court for debt.

One of the greatest ethical differences between small town and city people has to do with their time/task orientation. If you are in a place where you can start and stop tasks many times a day without losing much time in the process, you tend to become time oriented. If, however, changing over from plowing to dinner means something like the chart below you get task oriented.

Bringing the Tractor in from the north 40 acres:  20 min.

Cleaning off the moldboards to prevent rust: 10 min.

Washing up and changing clothes: 15 min.

Total time:  45 min.

Many who live in the rat race think that task orientation is a lazy, sloppy lack of time orientation. They see it as an ethical issue because it might waste time for the one who makes appointments. But time orientation for many people could waste a lot of change-over time. It's immoral to ask them to stop plowing at 5:00 when there's 15 minutes left to do in this field, and the extra time to finish it tomorrow will be 45 minutes. Task oriented people measure work by tasks. Their interaction with others is incidental; but the need to finish tasks is fundamental.

If they're late for prayer meeting, or the men's breakfast. It's not a lack of ethics that keeps you waiting, but the difference in ethical bases.

Worship Forms

It surprises people that forms can have more effect on homogeneity than substance. But forms are what people experience. The "high church" liturgical forms shared by Lutherans, Catholics, and Episcopalians often make them feel at home with one another even though the substance of ,their theologies stands in sharp contrast. Those who emphasize teaching in worship find common ground whether Baptist or Presbyterian. Emotional worship can exist both in and out of the Charismatic movement. The man who experiences awe through a hike in the mountains, doesn't see how people do it in a crowded church building.

Identity Concepts

Ask someone from the city to write in 25 words or less the answer to the question, "Who are you?", and you'll usually get a job description. Ask the one with rural orientation and you get either a geography lesson or a genealogy. The first was once a "man's thing", but is becoming more true of women, as we tend to find people who prepare for narrowly defined "careers." The key to success is the Orville Redenbacker theory, "Do one thing, and do it better than anyone else." There is a growing perception in America that identity is synonymous with specialty.

It has invaded the church with the concept of "your spiritual gift." (Notice the singular.) All these ideas pigeonhole people. The outcome is that people are urged to become narrow specialists. It is more than simple urging. It is identity survival. The axiom is that if you're not a specialist, you're a nobody.

In small town thinking, your identity is enhanced by the breadth of things you do. People cannot afford to get a specialist for everything. You never call one until you're stumped yourself. Besides, a small community just doesn't have as many people as there are specialties. It's one of the reasons that country people make the best third world missionaries. This is the way most of the world thinks.

There are degrees of oneness, along the continuum from indifference to intimacy. So there are degrees of homogeneity. The definition of homogeneous groups is hard. But we ought to ask the question, "Can the sense of the we/they axis be changed?" I think it can. But there are several truths about this we must face.

The first is that it is easier for the mature to change than the immature. The Biblical principle is that the strong ought to bear the weak. In fact, this is what missionaries have done for years. They make the effort to cross the barriers. They become the 150% people Lingenfelter and Meyer describe. But the mistake we make is to assume that the ability to do this lies primarily in giftedness. So, if you don't have the gift, you don't have to grow transculturally. But it seems to me that the issue is not giftedness, but maturity. If fear of strangers is part of the fall, and becoming a lover of strangers part of growth, then everybody ought to be challenged with it.

Church growth people often describe small town churches as "single cell." They need to define what they mean. Certainly they're not talking about cells in the sense of growth groups. In fact, in those terms small town churches are often "no cell." It is true that most small town churches operate at a level where everyone in the church knows each other. This has little to do with homogeneity, however. Small town churches are usually limited in size by the size of the community, and in the case of what I would estimate is 60 to 80 percent of them, their growth is limited, not by their failure to pursue the evangelization of a homogeneous unit, but by their inability to meld together people who are different! It is their relative homogeneity that limits their growth!

I'm a member of a congregation that must have close to 6000 different people in attendance each weekend. This growth has come largely by carefully broadening the acceptance of people who were different, especially at celebration. People have learned to celebrate their differences in variety in the morning worship. It has come by having something for the variety of cultures there.

There are varied" congregations" to meet the needs of the homogeneous groups. But the Saturday night crowd does not even fit in with the Sunday celebration. They are so different, the only connection they have to the rest of the church is through people who have dared to cross the barriers; mature people willing to be uncomfortable during worship for the sake of reaching out.

So McGavern's homogenous group axiom is true as long as the limits of the pool of the homogeneous people are far away. It is absolutely true that like people can more easily reach like people. But the principle has been studied only by people looking at situations where the size of the community was not a factor!

That's not the small town situation.

Small town churches, have some homogeneity, but often it is not deep. The need to "get along" masks the differences. The reality is that on the ethclass model, small town churches already experience more differences between individuals than city churches. And the key to their growth is how to come to celebrate that variety.

One question I have never heard the Church Growth theorists address is, "What causes homogeneous group churches to grow faster." What if we were to discover that the reason homogeneous churches grow faster is that then people don't have to grow? Isn't it possible that they grow because they don't push anyone out of his comfort zone? The" homogeneous group principle", never considers the responsibility of leadership to be "given to hospitality. " That phrase translates a word compounded from" lover" and "stranger." It is a mark of maturity to really be attracted to people who are different. So there are two good but competing values here. The first is a concern to provide a place where people can begin to gather the internal wherewithal to live the Christian life without first having to take steps that require a maturity they don't have. The second is to not leave them in that immature comfort zone.

A second question grows out of the above. It is, "What are the factors in transcultural ministry that inhibit assimilation?" I am bold enough to suggest that the two greatest are the issues of acceptance and the problem of communication.

Acceptance is a two way street. We have to strive to both accept and be accepted. And the problem is that acceptance of a person often means some toleration of attitudes and behavior that we see as unbiblical. What a tangled web this is!

Communication trouble happens when the differences between people include perceptions that are unspoken. Every interaction includes not only what is said but what is unsaid, what both parties don't need to say. That makes discipling people who don't have your own presuppositions difficult and evangelism near impossible.

In one small community where we had significant ministry, you would find the great majority of people over fifty to be culturally Wesleyan. Not everyone had Methodist history, but the area had been so well reached by these groups that they had come to dominate the culture. Not everyone was a Christian, but they behaved like them, adopted many of those values, and even accepted some of the forms.

But a funny thing happened. These prosperous farms had been mostly dairy farms. But they found that the deep topsoil could be more valuable producing cash crops; sugar beets and beans. Dairy farming, for all its mechanization is far more labor intensive than cash crop farming. In the new mode, the winners swallowed up other farms and bought bigger machines. The advantage was now to be capital intensive. You just didn't need the people. So where farmers in the dairy business needed 200 acres and two hired hands, the cash crop farmer could handle 2000 acres by himself and still go to Florida in the winter!

The change in the community was that you now needed only 23% of the people you had before to farm the same area. There were vacant houses everywhere. So people from a near-by (100 miles away) metropolis came to live in those vacant houses. They had no heritage there, no share in the history, no connection to the prim Wesleyan culture. Outreach to them by the existing churches was difficult! Imagine getting into a ladies club a young woman who had tatoos on both breasts, the tops of which started above her neckline? Even among those genuinely regenerate, the differences were alarming. In one Tuesday morning Bible study we noticed that three women sitting together on the couch, had each been reached for Christ while living with the same man. Each had kicked him out when they were converted. He had moved in with the next until she trusted the Lord.

For half of these ladies in that Bible study, the concern was how to get their husbands to stop smoking pot, how to get former boyfriends to let them alone, how to raise their children alone, or how to make the welfare check stretch. For the other half, the issue was how to keep their community the way it always had been. (A battle already lost.) The daunting challenge was not to have a church for each of these groups. In a town of only 150 souls, that couldn't be done. The younger group couldn't have supported any ministry by themselves. We have to learn how to minister to them together.

The issues were acceptance and communication.

A challenge of the church today is that we have to grapple with the fact that many small communities are experiencing real cultural disharmony. While small communities west of the Mississippi have mostly experienced actual loss of population, those east of the river often have simply seen change. The perceived loss is often not really caused by a loss of population, but a loss of community services caused by more consolidation. This is combined with often radical change, producing a sense of the loss of old values.

A small town we studied in central western Michigan had four lakes in its borders. People from the cities had built vacation homes on those lakes, and later winterized them and retired there. But now the area was in the third stage of the cycle, and these people were moving to city condos, where they didn't have maintenance concerns. Those buying the homes were city people, willing to commute 60 miles to work if they could enjoy lakeside living. The men didn't wear belts or socks, and got their hair permed. If they walked into one of the fine "farmer" churches in the area, their sexuality was questioned!

I conducted an on the street poll asking questions such as "What is the Gospel?" and "What is evangelism?" Seven out of eight people didn't have a clue. They were the city types. Twice the question "What is Evangelism?" brought the answer "Is it anything like vandalism?" These people weren't hostile, but ignorant. But the fact is that they are still not accepted in the area churches, and people like us who share a "holy jargon" can't talk to them.

A Prescription for Assimilation

Up to now, this paper has attempted to be descriptive, In summary of that, your town and its environs are somewhere on the continuum between rural and urban, between small town and small city. The probability is that you have arrived at small city status with people who still have some of the rural mindset.

The demographics show that you have a real mix of different people. While your church is probably not homogeneous now, assimilation of new people from this diversity will hit a barrier because your church has come to some cultural identity that may not be theirs.

Pushing the task of assimilation on new converts that are not mature enough to cross cultural barriers just won't work. You must create an interim climate for them, one where acceptance is unqualified and communication is happening.

I urge you to think of this in three options, here given in order of preference.

1.     Match the convert with a culturally compatible discipler who may work one-on-one or with small groups of like people. to do this requires that you intentionally assess the cultural diversity you have, recruit disciplers from a variety of cultures, and train them in the art of grounding the convert in the Word and slowly growing him to the place where he can accept diversity and even participate in it. Prepare your congregations by teaching the difference between Biblical absolutes and cultural expressions of them. We can provide you with tapes of messages that tend to do this. Success will depend on your ability to diagnose the cultural differences of the inquirer, and match him to the right discipler.

2.     Prepare very especially mature disciplers for a cross cultural ministry.  I cannot emphasizes enough the importance of maturity here.  This is the level of stuff only really good missionaries achieve.  Yet it does not require clergy type training.  You may find people with a capacity for this among those who already have significant cross cultural interaction.  Refer converts for whom you do not have culturally compatible disciplers to these people.  This stuff is difficult, so option one must be understood to be better.

3.     Punt.  If you can’t do either of these, or you’ve tried and things aren’t working, give the ball to someone else.  It may be that certain churches in your area have more affinity for a certain group, and may succeed in assimilating someone you can’t.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1980, there are ten protestant churches that held services in Spanish. The Assembly of God churches were Puerto Rican, the Baptist Churches were Mexican, and the Christian Reformed Churches were Cuban. That's not about doctrine, or polity. It's about culture.

Some hard thinking is due here. You need to consider how you will identify the different culturally diverse groups you have disciplers from. You need to plan the training that will prepare them for the task. You need to pray for the generosity and grace to consider the assimilation of the convert into some Bible preaching local church more important than your church growth. May God give you rich grace to do this.

Then comes the next step. You must move the new person (the one who is culturally different) into the congregation. Again, the principal is that the strong ought to bear the weak. If your community has significantly different people, you need to be the first one to understand these differences. There is a wealth of material out there that describes generational differences. Other differences are less uniform and have gotten less attention. And in a small town, they are probably not as stark as they are in the city. Farming was always a "cottage industry." That is, no one "left home" to go to work. Parents tended to work together.

It surprises me that so many preachers build their concepts of the Ephesians 5 concept of marital relationships on the assumption that the "Industrial revolution" family is the Biblical norm. The Bible culture never had a husband/breadwinner -- wife/homemaker dichotomy. The prevailing culture is pictured (and praised) in Proverbs 31. In such life, culture is better transmitted generationally than in the fractured family the mills engendered.

The arts that have permeated our lives since the 60s have had generational disdain as their theme. Don't underestimate it. But that’s only about generational difference.

The problem is, we haven't studied the other issues that divide us, and that most pastors don't know how. Some are even going to find (I am afraid) that it is something they can't perceive. That always halts the ability to assimilate. You have to be a "cultural interpreter" to your people. You need to unblock communication and engender acceptance.

We sometimes assume that just mixing people will produce assimilation. Unfortunately, that's not so. I had a chance recently to work with a wonderful rural church located in a resort area. There was a internal difference between two groups I will call the "Twin City Transplants" and the "North Country Survivors." Since the people in both groups took the Bible seriously, and were trying to live the Christian life, there was no recognition of these differences. Under the serene surface of this congregation ran a fault crack in the "crust" that was ripe for an earthquake.

The Godly District Superintendent saw the rumblings as having a spiritual dimension. He's right, really. The resolution of cultural difference pressure does require the real application of spiritual maturity. But the application of spiritual maturity will not be effective if it only considers the surface friction and doesn’t understand the differences in perceptions of different groups. You won't stop an earthquake by paving the top of the fault. It needs to be explored more deeply.

Their problem surfaced when a congregational member who had grown up in Italian confrontation approached a church board who were steeped in Norwegian non-confrontation. He said something like, “Where did you guys get your job description for a youth sponsor? Was it boiler-plated from the cruise director’s on the Love Boat?! When I was growing up, the young people met with the Pastor and studied doctrine. Our kids never meet with the Pastor and don’t know the truths of the Bible. I want you to order the Pastor to meet with the teens of the church no less than an hour a week!”

The board took this under advisement, but when he had left the room, the first question asked was, “I wonder what he really wants.” The words were clear, but the communication was clouded by cultural expectations.

Somehow, we've missed the point that in dealing well with cultural difference the first step is making the differences conscious! We're afraid to do that because at first it seems to cause trouble. Picture the consciousness raising trouble caused when men were being confronted with the way some women saw things. There was as major effort to put that cork back in that bottle; to try to stop the exposure of the difference. Actually, Gary Smalley and others are having major ministry by just exposing these differences. Only when the differences are exposed are they dealt with. Another way to say this is that cures usually don't happen until there is a diagnosis. And when the problem is behavioral, the diagnosis must be understood by the actors.

One large church has really grown by pressing the concept of affinity groups." But I remember the abortive attempts at “cell development” in their church when they just tried to mix people. Like them, we are afraid to identify and group people by affinity, lest that become the root of differences, and breakout in strife. But we must expose difference if we are to deal with it!

Remember the two issues, acceptance and communication? Our purpose here is to engender these and to leave other culturally different but morally neutral things alone.

We are not seeking uniformity. The Bible clearly teaches the value of differences in the body of Christ. But we need to explore how “hands” are different from “feet” to value each as we ought.

The work begins in the pulpit. The Bible is rife with illustrations of cultural difference. We need to be students of them. It should become part of body life. If we rightly understand the need to teach issues about relationships, this should not be hard.

I want to begin with the negative. Ethnic or sexist jokes that demean some culture are to be avoided at all costs. They damage like gossip. You cannot build acceptance while you are demeaning someone. Even making Ole and Sven jokes into Abie and Moshe jokes where there are no Jews will not do. If you start the trend to demeaning, you shouldn't be surprised when others follow. And the venom in their jokes will seem more stark than yours. (even when it's not.)

Beginning to teach cultural acceptance is easier if you start away from the present issues. Illustrations from the foreign mission fields are useful. Find the dynamic that drives the cultural behavior.

A Christian friend of mine from Nigeria was incensed by a Time article that called female circumcision barbaric. He explained that it was started to keep babies from starving. I won't go into the details of how. My friend would not defend the practice, but he was very offended that we criticized something we did not understand.

Find people who are transparent, and invest time in letting them share their history. Find people who aren't preachy. Give them a forum. I don't like to ask for "testimonies." I use the term "faith stories." I explain that they shouldn't tell other people what to do, but rather recount real experience in concrete history.

Share the things that show the other's point of view. Don't claim to fully understand it, but give it validity. Don't imitate it, that's the worst put down. Find the things that show real value in the other culture. .

Dealing with communication is harder. People need to listen carefully, and learn that often our interpretation of someone's communication is only the way we would be feeling if we acted that way.

Let's show this with an admitted stereotype. Consider the different ways a typical Italian and Norwegian confront. If my Italian brother is having difficulty with me, he's liable to be "in my face." I will always know where I am with him, and his boistrous confrontation gets it over with. This style of confrontation scares Norwegians to death! They like to be nice. (See Val Farmer's article on the drawbacks of niceness.) So they never confront until they explode! They have a difficult time believing the Italian confrontation wasn't an explosion. They are often sure it means disaster for future relations. The Italian won't know why they are withdrawn.

This doesn't describe my Italian wife, who seems more Norwegian. But it shows the kind of things that can ruin communication.

The rest of the subject is far too long for this workshop. My prayer is that we will have helped you to get started.

 

Sources:

1 . Donald McGavern and Win Arn - How to Grow a Church - Regal

2. C. Peter Wagner - People Like Us - Knox

3. Kieth Hunter - The Lord's Harvest in the Rural Church - Beacon Hill

4. Fagerstorm and Carlson - The Lonely Pew - Kregel

© Center for Small Church Leadership 2011