This note is on my list of Important Questions to Answer.
North American cities are currently experiencing one of the largest international migration movements in world history. It is changing the very fabric of the U.S. city, and it is an opportunity for the growth of the gospel. New Immigration is a Missionary Occasion, and the church must rise to meet the opportunity. A framework for culturally relevant and biblically faithful gospel ministry toward the increasing diaspora populations in North American cities is a necessity.
Such a framework will require consideration of: super-diviersity, ethnic enclaves and ethnoburbs.
Super-Diversity is the New Normal
This needs to be it's own note that is referenced in this one. The radical diversity now found in these urban centers outstrips conventional language and terms. In 2007, Steven Vertovec coined the term "super-diversity" to refer to the phenomenon he was observing in London.Vertovec, Steven. “Super-Diversity and Its Implications.” Ethn. Racial Stud. 30.6 (2007): 1024–54. According to this concept of super-diversity, cultural diversity does not lead toward a minimizing of cultures or differenes, but toward the generation of even more cultures. Cities are collections of radically diverse groups that continue to increaes in complexity. Super-diversity is the stacking of cultures. worldviews, languages, and religions in the same space in such a way that it creates even more cultural groupings.
While globalization does force cultural groups in the same geography to interact. the claim that globalization leads to assimiliation is dubious. Boundaries between cultures are porous, and the transmission of ideas does occur. Furthermore, subsequent generations occupy liminal spaces between multiple cultures. However, instead of homogenization, this actually leads to hybridization. Where there were two cultures, there are now three not one and a half. Paul Hiebert writes,
One thing is increasingly clear: the world is not moving toward a greater homogenization. On the other hand, ethnographies reveal increasing growth of ethnic, national, and tribal identities in many parts of the world. On the other hand, locals are increasingly participating in global agendas.Hiebert, Transformaing Worldviews, 342. Hibert points to twin forces at play concerning this phenomenon: globalization and localization. while globalization receives much attention, Hiebert notes the presence of a balancing force that fights for cultural permanences. In this sense, cultures are permeable but resilient, and that leads to the generation of additional cultural groups when they are placed on top of one another.
Super-diversity, therefore, means that attempting some universal multicultural expression for mission within a city is woefully insufficient. While multiculturalism is a needed piece of the puzzle, any single solution strategy concerning contextual manifestations of the gospel in diverse North Amerian cities will fail to produce anything approaching gospel saturation. Instead, it will create new hidden peoples inside our cities.
Ethnic Enclaves and Ethnoburbs
This needs to be it's own note that is referenced in this one. Cultural resilience, and the need for unique cultural manifestations of the gospel in cities, is best demonstrated by the existence of ethnic enclaves. Many of these enclaves have a longstanding history in the United States and date back over a hundred years to previous waves of immigrgation. Think of Little Italy or Chinatown in cities like New York and San Francisco.Fonner, From Ellis Island to JFK, 40, provides thorough descriptions of these historic enclaves in New York city. Over a century later, and these enclaves still allow for cultural resiliance and transmission for certain social norms.
Ethnic enclaves are not a relic of previous immigration. New enclaves are still forming today, and many of the newest ones ecplipse historic ones in size and influence. Today's enclaves often emerge on the edges of urbdan centers. Howard Duncan calls these suburban enclaves "ethnoburbs." Duncan writes,
The formation of ethnic enclaves is a natural development when minority populations reach a sufficient size, and they have become a feature of many of our cities … The rise of the ‘ethnoburb’ in North America is one example of how contemporary enclaves can become institutionally complete, middle class, able to offer not only comforting neighbourhoods but full services and amenities, not only jobs, but lucrative professional careers, in general an environment that can compete with the mainstream in its appeal.Duncan, "Some Modern Challenges to Social Inclusion in Highly Diverse Cities", 137. Prime examples of these are located in Dearborn for Arabic peoples, Clarkston for a wide range of refugee communities, Little Kurdistan in Nashville's Nolensville Pile corridor, Mohatma Ghandi Square in Houston, and Little Ethiopia in Washington DC.
Growing up alongside gentryifying neighborhoods, these ethnoburbs and enclaves are far from ghettos and are destinations of choice for foreign born residents who seek to maintain cultural identity and social ties. They are voluntary, and hold a high level of influence both here in the States and back home overseas. During the 2020 presidential campaign, the president of India held a rally with Donald Trump in Houston for the large and influential South Asian community in Houston. The event was called "Howdy, Modi!" and filled a stadium with 50,000 attenders for the more than 300,000 South Asian diaspora members who live in Houston and Dallas.'Howdy, Modi!': Thousands, plus Trump, rally in Texas for India's leader, Reuters, Septermber 22, 2019.
Cultures within these enclaves are permeable–transferring ideas, symbols, and artifacts–but they are resilient. Distinct cultural and language groups remain. Any urban mission strategy attend this context with propular contextualization. A methodology that can first assess and discover these groupings and then develop unique disciple-making strategies, confronting worldview in a culturally appropriate manner.
The Core Missionary Task as Framework for Cross-cultural Missions
This needs to be it's own note that is referenced in this one. New immigration requires a strategy that takes the occasion seriously and remains biblical but contextual to the realities of the situatio. Considering the central role of the church as the agent and fruit of God’s mission, local churches are positioned best for diaspora ministry in their own context. However, placing traditional churches, mostly from a majority American context, at the center of such a strategy requires training.
Any equipping must encourage lay members that they can engage in effective cross-cultural missions. Too often, the idea of international missions being reserved for professionals with extensive training pervades the common ethos of churches. When confronted with people groups in their own cities, church members can be paralyzed by the conviction that some expertise is necessary to engage with these newcomers. Instead, equipping must demonstrate that cultural expertise is not the standard for faithful ministry and that simple methods of cultural acquisition allow for a discovery process to begin.
Churches cast a vision for members to participate in this mission, asking them to prayerfully consider involvement. As members are identified, a process of equipping them as a mission team within the church can begin. Ideally lay teams can be set up in churches that partner with other churches and parachurch organizations to share the gospel and plant churches among diaspora peoples in their context. Equipping requires a shift from primarily monocultural ministry philosphy and methods toward a cross-cultural understanding of the missionary task. In this way, local church equipping for diaspora missions should consider insihts from missionary practice overseas while allowing for the flexibility necessary to work in a North American setting.
One such framework is the Core Missionary Task (CMT) promoted by the International Mission Board (IMB) in its Foundations document. Foundations provides the theological and missiological grounding for the IMBs strategy formation and practices overseas. It is not a universal strategy but a framework that serves as the foundation for their missionary methods across the globe. In this manner, the (CMT) is a helpul guide for developing diaspora missions strategy at the local church level in North America.
The CMT includes six basic components central to the missionary task. These components are not strictly linear, but often follow the listed trajectory. These components include: entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership formation, and exit/partnership.Foundations, 75.
Adapting the CMT to Local Church Diaspora Missions
This needs to be it's own note that is referenced in this one. Since the CMT is a general framework for particular missionary methods, it is easily adapted to use in the North American context by churches equipping members for a cross-cultural missions strategy. One potential example is the Peoples Next Door (PND) project, which equips churches to do this kind of ministry. The PND project breaks diaspora missions engagment down into three broad phases: discovery, engagement, and partnership.These three phases account for all components of the CMT and adapt them to use in unique settings.
The first phase of a local church strategy should involve people group discovery. Discovery concerns both the where and the who of a particualr group of people. Discovery first seeks to understand the geogrpahic location and social circles of a given group. This involves finding a geographic cetner within an urban center if the group has one. It also involves locating points of interest where intersection with people from these groups can naturally occur. However, discovery does not stop at geographic information. It presses toward cultural acquisition as well. This involves culture, language, and worldview infromation tied to this particular grou of people in their location. Broad academic research about a group, such as South Asian Indians, is helpful but insufficient. Understanding background is only one step of cultural aquisition in a diaspora context. Since these groups are themselves in a new context, they will be contextually different from those within their home culture and worldview. These twin concerns of greography and group narrative drive the discovery process.
Discovery results in a map of the people group network
Discovery results in a map. This part of the process often feels daunting for lay members in churches, but it need not be complicated. Caleb Crider points to the significance of mapping for missions in Tradecraft and provides helpful guidance for local churches. Crider speaks of mapping in three layers: geographic, social, and spiritual. Crider, Tradecraft, 51. By identifying and cataloging points of interest, a local church can quickly and effectively develop a map that outlines both the social connectedness of a particular people and key spiritual categories of their worldview. A point of interest is any brick and mortar location—such as a business, market, restaurant, fabric store, or temple—that can be positively connected to a particular socio-cultural group. In this regard, lay teams seek to discover the West African hair braiding salons and the Halal meat markets that cater specifically to a given people. By cataloging these points of interest, the social and spiritual life of a group begin to take shape. Furthermore, these locations become points of entry into the community.
Discovery requires being a participant observer
Create permanent note on the idea of the participant observer. This needs to be in a lot of places. Enoch Wan and Casey Anthony speak of the importance of being a participant observer in diaspora missions. They write,
This insider’s approach allows for exploration of culture and worldview issues and often raises many new questions that need to be answered. Additionally, participant observation allows for the building of deep relationships during the research process … Along the way, the researcher will learn valuable vocabulary, idioms, habits, community gatekeepers and leaders, degree of people group networking and connectedness, and places of residence that will be essential for the church planting process in the future.Wan, Church Planting among Immigrants in US Urban Centers, 64.
Contrary to purely objective observation, participant observers enter into the story they are viewing. This is significant for the discovery process. It allows for an intimate look at culturel norms and key tenets of wordvliew necessary for proper contextualization. Furthermore, by taking the posture of the participant observer, relations for engagement are alreaduy formed in the discovery phase. Once a point of interest is entered, it can become a point of engagement and gospel ministry. Soon, shop owners and visitors become familiar faces, and the dialogue with questions of cultural acquisition forms the basis of relationships and conversation about the gospel.
Training modules for discovery in local churches should focus on both aspects of discovery. To this end, traning is necessary for members to know how to easily collect and catalogue information in order to develop a map. In addition, simple traning should be given on how to accomplish culture acquisition through participant observation. Examples of potential training components for discovery would include a simple understanding of culture based on the 5 Fs (food, finances, family, faith, and festivals) as well as key worldview questions to engage in dialogue. Finally, teaching people to use Google sheets and maps to easily plot out people group networks is a basic but helpful approach to information gathering.
Example of Discovery
One local church in Raleigh, NC decided to encourage their congregation to begin people group discovery. In order to do so, they canvassed an area within a 10 minute drive of their facilities to collect points of interest for West Africans. Their results found over 30 places, markets and restaurants, that were connected to this diaspora group. At the conclusion of a worship service, a map was placed on the screen and an appeal was made to the congregation to take the next week and list out the things they are already doing in their life that could be done at one of these places, such as purchasing rice or other goods. Each church member was given a list of these locations as they left the service. Within a couple of months, numerous families within the church had developed personal relationships with West African families in the area, some having regular dinner invitiations.
Diachronic and Synchronic Gospel Proclamation is important
The strategy must turn from personal evangelism to group Bible studies
The imporance of orality
Illustration: "Go and Tell" ESL
Begin Bible studies with Church Planting in Mind
Raise up leaders from within to continue the work of missio
This section needs to be expanded significantly. Three levels of partnership must be considered by churches engaging in immigrant missions. The first is cooperation with other majority culture churches in their area. The second is those churches that may have been planted as the result of their efforts in diaspora missions. Finally, the fastest growing church movements in America are currently among foreign born populations that come here as Christians. Existing churches must learn to fellowship and cooperate with these new churches.