For church leaders to effectively communicate beyond their congregation and culture — that is, to reach a broader, dissimilar audience — they should try to forge a true, interpersonal connection with those persons they want to reach. But it would help to also do some homework.
How do you connect? You “go ye therefore” into the new milieu — preferably with an arranged invitation and host — not to teach but to learn, “not to be understood but to understand,” as St. Francis of Assisi would counsel.
Then you meet and greet various people, talk a little, listen a lot and learn as much as you can. Then learn some more.
Be curious and compassionate, non-judgmental and transparent, friendly but unforced. Make new friends. Yes, it can be easier said than done, but it’s always doable if you “open wide your hearts,” in the Apostle Paul’s words (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).
At some point you should read recommended books and articles, view recommended television programs and other media content, visit recommended websites and social media pages. Do it “for the culture” (a popular hip-hop expression) — not to change your culture but to transcend it.
Our United Methodist mission is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” But we are learning today that our church needs transformation as well, especially in how we understand the world in all its diversity, where Christ calls us to go and to be.
Are your church members talking about matters of race, culture and social justice? Are they able to do it from a non-ethnocentric perspective — that is, not seeing their own race and culture, their own limited understanding of social justice as standard or superior? And are they able to appreciate the contrasts and commonalities that exist among different races, cultures and social experiences?
Communicating such insights and values with your congregation internally can help with that. Use your church website, newsletter, bulletin, audiovisual presentations and social media to educate members about races, cultures and justice concerns, to encourage them to seek and learn more, and to engage them in new, formative outreach encounters and experiences. Consider using these communication tools to share information available at umc.org/EndRacism and to encourage others to visit and share the page.
Collaborate to arrange ongoing cross-racial, cross-cultural conversations, Bible and book studies, celebrations, worship and special programs, Sunday school, vacation Bible school and other activities. Start small, but as soon as possible, plan, prepare and promote together a yearlong calendar of meetings and events. Don’t be narrow-minded, but reach beyond your United Methodist connection to engage people and churches of other pan-Methodist and non-Methodist denominations.
Celebrate racial-ethnic histories, heroes and heritage months of the year:
- Black/African-American (February)
- Asian/Pacific American (May)
- Hispanic/Latino (mid-September to mid-October)
- Native American (November)
Celebrate Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day and Jubilee Day, celebrated by many Black Americans on June 19. The day honors the day in 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which freed the slaves, was read to enslaved African-Americans in southern Texas, months after the Civil War had ended. More Americans should realize that the freedoms we celebrate on July 4th, Independence Day, were freedoms denied to Americans of color for many decades.
Learn and share partner churches’ histories as you share your own. But acknowledge and lament where racial prejudice, discrimination and even oppression may have caused separation and alienation. Don’t avoid tough but illuminating conversations; keep them grounded in Christian love and mutual respect. Maybe use Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) as a touchstone for your discourse.
The talks may be tense at times, possibly even traumatic for some. They may even require the aid of a group counselor or a helpful video resource to guide such intercultural dialogues. But they should be always prayerful and influenced by the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit.
Participating churches should also share visions and plans for their futures. Perhaps those may alter as this outreach ministry grows and creates new energy, ideas and selfless aspirations, maybe even a new or deeper appreciation of our shared responsibility to pursue racial equity, peace and social justice for all.
Work together to ensure that these outreaching, connective efforts do not become stale or aimless or fail to grow. Celebrate milestones. Form close bonds of friendship. But also be fruitful and multiply. Keep identifying and enlisting fresh leadership and new approaches. Constantly invite others to join — maybe even guests who are not a part of the participating churches. Remember Jesus’ Great Commission. Always be outreaching.
Try using video-conferencing and livestreaming platforms to widely share personal and group testimonies, interviews, dialogues, town hall meetings, produced video stories, cultural arts and celebrations.
Let your churches and communities know what is happening in this ministry. Share in digital, print and video media honest, well-told stories of minds, hearts and lives being transformed. The stories and the talent able and willing to communicate them will expand.
Tell your local news media. Don’t hide it, but instead “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Others will be drawn to your light. This is about making disciples and helping to transform both the church and the world. So, be creative, mission-focused, strategic and honest. And always be faithfully sharing the gospel internally and externally, using new words and new ways to grow and enhance your witness.
Want more ideas? Here are some offered by Cathy Bruce, Kentucky Conference Director of Communications:
- Be open to different musical genres. Have your choir/musicians experiment with different styles of music. Try finding old standards but with a twist, a version that’s reminiscent of a different culture.
- Pair your youth group with another youth group from a different culture/ethnicity. Young people are always more than willing to learn from one another and to see one other as just people.
- Share with your congregations the rich history of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) affiliated with The United Methodist Church.
John W. Coleman is Director of Communications for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church.