Tim Green is on the eldership team at Woodside Church, Bedford and has been on the full-time staff for 20 years as a pastor and teacher. Over that time Woodside has become a multi-ethnic church with over 40 different language groups represented. Tim has been very involved in this development. In this Broadcast he speaks about multicultural Sunday meetings.
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In any town or city you will have a make up of the population, which is your harvest field. Woodside Church in Bedford is passionate about wanting to reflect the borough in which they live. As the borough has changed so has the church. Over 40 language groups are represented in the church. The church is 15-16 years into the journey. A third of those in the church originate from outside the UK, either in their generation or the previous generation.
The Biblical Mandate
11am on a Sunday morning is actually a segregating time as we see many churches of one ethnicity within their church. To have ethnically multicultural meetings, where we are all together in worship and teaching, we need a biblical mandate to do this. The promises of God for the nations is throughout the thread of scripture .
- In Genesis all the nations will be blessed through Abraham. Christ is the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, and so as we are in Christ so the promise applies to us. The nations will be blessed by us!
- Matthew 24:14 - The gospel of the kingdom will be preached to all nations, and then the end will come.
- Rev 7:9-10 - A great multitude from every nation standing before the throne of God. When you have a gathering of people from many nations it is like a foretaste of eternity. The triumph of the cross will affect every people group.
- Matt 28:18-20 - All authority has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations. That’s all people groups. Nations are now all on our door steps, and we are called to reach out to them and to gather them.
- Matt 22:39 - Love your neighbour as you love yourself. What better way to love than sharing the love of Christ.
- Gal 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, etc.. . We are all one in Christ.
- Eph 2:14-15 - The church is now one new man in Christ. Every division has been broken down through the cross. We are now fellow citizens, family, and that is what we are when we gather.
- Col 3:9-11 - We’ve put on the new self, and there are no cultural, social and racial distinctions.
- 1 John 1:4 - Let’s love one another, as we are all God’s children. A visual demonstration of this is when we gather as the local church. Fellowship with one another.
- In the New Testament we see the Antioch church and a list of leaders which indicates a mixture of cultures.
Let's Get Practical
How have we found that we have helps to develop and grow as a multi ethnic church? The big word is intentionality.
Intentionality - it doesn’t just happen automatically. In ‘One Body, One Spirit’ by George Yancey he says “Multi racial churches don’t just spring up, they are the result of intentional efforts on the part of church leaders and members to create or maintain an integrated congregation”. Different things have been done at different times:
- When different nationals start to come we started to put flags up, representing the nations of those people coming to the church.
- An artist made banners with the names of God in the languages of those in the church.
- Posters with ‘Welcome’ on it was written in many languages.
- These things are not there now, but it was part of the intentionality.
- Think about the background music you have playing before and after a meeting. It doesn’t just need to be one type.
- Sense of family make the big difference
- Food makes a big difference - snacks to aid celebrating our cultures.
- Connect people with each other, and mix across the cultures
- Accept everyone who comes.
- There are different views in cultures about punctuality!
- Remember names of those who come, especially the children.
- Ask about home, and where that may be.
- Avoid a 'them and us' mentality.
- Hospitality is an extension of the Sunday meeting
- Be planned and also spontaneous.
- Understanding is key
- Where people are from, what’s their first language?
- What’s their reason for being here?
- Those coming will have a different understanding and experience of church
- Children are important.
- Recruit workers from the many different ethnic groups in your church
- Train your staff and ministry leaders:
- About cross cultural mission
- About where you are as a church
- Find and discover those who are musically gifted to be part of your worship bands.
- Invite people to pray in their mother tongue during the meeting.
- Spontaneous songs in their own languages.
- Bible verses read in a number of different languages.
- Avoid tokenism, and allow people to express themselves in the worship band.
- Be aware of what is happening in the home countries of those in the church so you can pray.
- Use of stories is important.
- Understand the context of the listeners.
- Refer to different cultures, and not just your own. For example a celebration meal isn’t just a Christmas dinner, it might be a curry!
- Find preachers from other ethnicities. It may take time to develop this.
- Teach what it means to be one new man in Christ.
- Language is important, and there may be times for translation, or bibles in other languages. It communicates that the nations are welcome.
- Listen and learn
- Provide the place for listening and learning from those from the different ethnic groups.
- Think long term - Ultimately we want to reach a critical mass where some of the initial intentionality isn’t as necessary.
- You will make mistakes, but relationship is key. Genuine love, wins people.
- Find people who can bridge across ethnic groups, and also leaders from diverse groups.
- Aim for a diverse leadership team.
- Ask God for wisdom.
- Relax, have fun and laughter!
- The overarching goal isn’t to be a multicultural church, but to be a missional church. Very few multicultural churches make being multicultural their central goal, it is actually about being on mission, and reaching the community you are in. There has never been such a better time than now… !
1. When you had the initial vision of reaching the nations, how difficult was it for you and the church?
- The nations was always in the heart of the church, but there wasn’t an actual demonstration of that in the church.
- A number of people started to look into the church, and that started a change.
- Hospitality was quite key.
2. What were the main challenges?
- Language was a challenge initially. There are small groups that gather around a single language.
- There was a need to teach and equip the church as people where being taken out of their comfort zone. Teaching on how to relate to people not from your culture.
- Building for the long term is key as it is a slow and steady process.
- You need flexibility and adaptability.
3. How much narrative needed to be given from the front? Is this still needed today?
- We still have mini-series and one-offs about reaching and reflecting the town that we live in, and about being one new man in Christ.
4. If your locality is very low in ethnic diversity, do you have any comments on how to intentionally develop links?
- This isn’t possible in every town, but you need to ask the question of who is in the town? Go to the national statistics for your town and see your population make up.
- You need to be realistic, as it’s mission to the nations that are actually on your door step.
5. What are the pros and cons of doing a multicultural meeting verses trying to plant things specifically into the different cultures of our area?
- Love multicultural meetings, but recognise that there are times because of language where there needs to be separate congregations. It’s essential to then find other ways of being family together.
6. What are the helpful pointers worth knowing when being hospitable to those from other cultures?
- We are humble, loving, gracious and kind.
- Speak to the whole family, and engage in conversation.
- Introduce them to someone else, find out their name, what brought them here.
- Try to connect them with someone who might have something in common with them.
- If your welcome team is diverse, then it helps with that initial welcome.
7. What resources would you recommend for the equipping of staff and church?
8. Is your worship middle of the road, or does it vary depending on who is on the team?
- This is developing still and is dependant on the diversity of the worship band. This is a long term project.
9. With your kids work you mentioned you have people from the different nations teaching. How does his impact the style?
- They bring their own character and style as anyone does. It would be amiss to not reflect this.
10. What is the balance of intentionally bringing people from other cultures into leadership without it feeling like tokenism?
- There will always be leaders from those in the ethnic groups.
- You only find them by building relationships.
- Look for those who hang around you and who want to be discipled.
- Ask God for wisdom to identify people, and be intentional in going to look for people.
- As leaders have emerged, people from those cultures have increasingly said this church is where we belong.
11. What mistakes have you made in the process of developing multicultural meetings, and what have you learnt from them?
- You will find after a service you will get lots of invitations to events. One mistake is to not take those up, as when you go to someones home you become their friend. Make the most of those.