The Culture Around Your Church Determines How Best to Reach It

What makes Christianity contagious?  We are sufficiently familiar with some of the answers: Contagious Christianity is imaginative, engaging, enthusiastic, and growing. Those four ways we know; but three others warrant some explanation.

Cultural Relevance

Culturally relevant expressions of Christianity are much more contagious than culturally alien expressions.  The very early Christian movement had to schedule its first “council” to clarify and settle this important strategic principle.  The first constellation of house churches—in Jerusalem, led by James, constituted a culturally Jewish expression of Christianity.  Most (or all) of the believers in Jerusalem were Jews who affirmed Jesus as the promised Messiah.  Keeping Judaism’s Sabbath laws and customs, and worshiping in Aramaic, were completely natural to them.  Gentiles were very welcome in the Jerusalem church, if they submitted to circumcision, gave up their Gentile culture and adopted Jewish ways, and learned the Aramaic language.

There was, however, a problem.  Up north in Antioch, Gentiles were becoming disciples and were not submitting to circumcision, and so on.  So, as reported in Acts 16, James called a meeting in Jerusalem to settle the matter once and for all. Paul advocated that the faith should not impose one language and one set of customs on other peoples; the faith was called to adapt to every tongue and culture on the face of the earth.

Paul’s case prevailed, and the principle of (what came to be called) “indig­enous” Christianity became the policy of the early Christian movement.  Acts 16 reports the most important decision ever made to facilitate the expansion of Christianity—in every cultural context, in every age.  But it would be an under­statement to say that the Church has not consistently followed the policy.

Often, the Judaizing principle operates in more informal ways, short of official policy, in which Christian leaders simply assume that a specific dialect, and a sub-culture’s customs and aesthetic, are necessary for Christian expression and experience.  This was one problem that John Wesley observed in his Church of England in the eighteenth century.  The “common people” did not speak establishment Christianity’s language. They did not dress, conduct themselves, and enjoy the same kind of music that characterized polite, refined “Christian” society.  How could such people become “real Christians?”  You know the rest of the story.  Methodism’s approach began on the people’s turf, and the approach adapted to the “common people’s” style, language, aesthetics, and music, and a contagious movement emerged—of, by, and for the people that establishment Christianity had written off as unfit for Christianization.

We should not assume, in most of our churches, that we are at all past that problem today. Many secular people are not like  “good church people,” culturally, and they do not understand stained-glass voices and ecclesiastical jargon.  In case you have not noticed, among the unwashed pagan masses, there is no epidemic interest in eighteenth century pipe organ music!

As Jesus, in the Incarnation, took on Galilean culture and spoke Galilean folk-Hebrew, so his Body the Church is called to extend such incarnational expressions to every people.  Then Paul modeled the way, as he became “all things to all people” that “some might be saved.”   The indigenous principle can be stated in one sentence.  Each people’s culture is the natural medium for expressing God’s revelation to them.

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George Hunter

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In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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