My grandfather pastored a Presbyterian church inside Detroit’s city limits for a few years. Eventually it moved to a suburb, but they had a “sister church” in Detroit that was dominantly African-American. Every once in a while, they would have joint gatherings and services. Even today, I regularly drive by churches who have, for example, a service in Spanish, or they rent out their facility to a congregation who speaks another language (e.g. Romanian or Korean). When I worked at Willow Creek, I marveled at their Spanish service, Casa de Luz, both at the resources of the ministry and the musical depth of their library. As we strive for unity and diversity in the body of Christ in the very divided United States, what is the role of sister churches or congregations that speak a different language?
It’s a very good question.
(Also, don’t call them “ethnic” churches. Us white Christians and the way that we do church is not the “non-ethnic” standard. We very much bring our ethnic influence into how we do church, incorporating mixed European and American extrabiblical elements into our services and ministries).
I don’t consider myself an authority to answer this question, but there are three things I’d keep in mind in interacting with this question.
1) Do not equate sister churches and other-language speaking congregations with contemporary v. traditional services. In my experience, the vast majority of the former is based in Pentecost, whereas the vast majority of the latter is based on modern marketing principles. With sister churches and other-language speaking congregations, there are legitimate hindrances to the efficiency of the white church service (or even a truly multicultural service), such as geographical, linguistic, and cultural. And these hindrances go beyond personal preferences within a homogenous congregation.
2) Make decisions within context and on a case-by-case basis. Aside from the values and guidelines from the New Testament, I’m not a fan of formulas for how to do church. So, I’m not going to make any generalized action steps. Context is key. If you have a sister church or a other-language speaking congregation. Find a way to have crucial conversations about what would be best to have a God-honoring relationship with each other and the local community. Make sure it’s a prayerful and gracious conversation that includes the right individuals for all involved.
3) Find creative ways to celebrate unity. If related congregations are, for legitimate reasons as aforementioned, unable to gather together for one service, there are other things that can be done. For example, have regular (perhaps quarterly) multi-church gatherings, especially holidays. Tell stories in service about what the other congregation is doing. Swap preachers on occasion, or have a large group outing to attend the other service. I’ve seen congregations do this with each other. It maintains true community and prevents more unnecessary division and even church splits.
What do you think? Have you had a sister church or does your church connected with another that does not speak your language? How do you feel about unity and what should be done?
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