Seeing Color and Intentional Outreach

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I don’t see color!

I heard this from a Jesus loving member of our church a few weeks ago and I responded “wow that must make your sunsets very boring.” “I don’t see color” is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. I know that he meant that “he loves everyone the same.” That he doesn’t see “a difference” between people. But there is a difference. Race has become such a challenging topic that it is difficult (and uncomfortable) for even church people to talk about. We don’t know what to say and we are afraid hurt someone’s feelings that we don’t talk about it.  Twenty Five years of recovery has taught me that before you can fix a problem you have to admit there is a problem.

Race has been a taboo subject for years in America. The recent hatred and senseless killing of innocent people, the killing of police officers and riots have made it easier to see how America is divided. Divisive attitudes and how to fix them are far beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that there is a problem, it’s going to be difficult to solve, and it’s going to take a long time!

But I think we have to start with the recognition that we are different. Not being able to acknowledge that gives us little chance of fixing this problem. If we can’t talk about the elephant, we will never be able to get it out of the room! If we can’t laugh at ourselves, at our differences and our idiosyncrasies – how can we find a solution that offers each other a feeling of safety and trust? We are different because God made us different.

A minister I know in Houston was reflecting on the prayer walk his church coordinated after the tragic and senseless shooting of Sheriff Deputy Goforth (a member of his church) – he said “Everyone is scared! The white community is scared. The Latino community is scared. The black community is scared. The police officers are scared! But there was some of each of those communities at the walk and the prayer walk brought a peace to everyone, for at least a few hours. Everyone felt united.”

That got me thinking of something I heard a while back – Sunday is the most segregated day of the week in America. Of those Americans that go to church most blacks go to black churches; most whites go to white churches and most Latinos go to Catholic churches.

So a simple question is “Why is it that way? Why don’t most of our churches reflect the demographic of their community?” Is it because it’s hard to change? Just because something is hard is not enough reason not to try to change. Is it because we don’t care? Is it because we are lazy? Is it because we have not educated ourselves of the changing face of America? If those are the reasons, aren’t those a form of racism?

Two years ago I noticed that our church was baptizing a lot of English speaking Latinos (2nd and 3rd generation- yes there are a lot of us- by 2060 Latinos will be 1/3 of the population) and I wanted to know why. We arranged a luncheon to ask them the question (among others) “how did you get to our church?” We had 35 folks in the room. What we found was not rocket science.  While a few came through special programs (like sports and vacation bible study for the kids) the vast majority came because they were invited. Who knew? Despite the programs, the outreach, the signs and advertising, the most effective way to get someone to know our church and introduce them to Christ is to invite them.

That raises another question. If it’s that simple then why are we still so segregated? Could it be that if you are one race you only have friends, acquaintances and coworkers of that same race? I don’t think so. Is it because we speak a different language. Nope- even 95% of second generation Latinos are either English dominant or bilingual.

So I think we have to ask ourselves, are we a church or are we a social club? Are we charged with getting together with folks that look like us, think like us and act like us for a couple of hours a week, or are we charged with changing the world. Maybe God knew how busy Americans would be in 2015- too busy to go on mission trips and take the good news around the world. Wanting to give us an opportunity to partner with Him he sent a mission field to America! While America is the greatest country in the world (maybe ever) – it’s not the promise land. That is coming! But for today I think we need to get out of our comfort zone and invite those of different color and heritage to church. They are easy to find, they are the ones that don’t look like you! It’s not an original idea but it has to be intentional.

We have to make our churches look more like our neighborhoods –and how heaven will look like later.

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