Thanks for hanging on with us as we’ve covered some of the ramblings of my mind. The comments and feedback have been great. If you haven’t, please check out the other posts in this series and let us all know what you think.
We’re going to turn the direction of this series a little and start looking at the environment that non-Christians/new converts/visitors experience when they enter into a church building. Much of what we’ll discuss has to do with culture.
Culture is something that many of us are completely unaware of yet it is all around us, in us, and protrudes from us. At the same time it is very difficult to define. In 1952, Alfred L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn published a book called Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions that was simply 200 pages devoted to the different definitions of the term. To help us understand culture in this discussion, I will provide the bullet pointed definitions used by Myron W. Lustig and Jolene Koester in their book Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures:
- Is Learned
- Is A Set of Shared Interpretations
- Involves Beliefs, Values, Norms, and Social Practices
- Affects Behavior
The biggest challenges regarding culture in churches is 1) being aware that there is a culture that exists within the walls of our churches that is probably different from the culture of the non-Christian/new Christians we encounter around us 2) being aware that much of our culture is not from scripture and is therefore not mandated 3) being aware that other cultures exist and are of equal value with our culture and 4) being sensitive enough to these facts to help individuals new to our church culture transition effectively.
In case the above doesn’t quite make sense to you, here’s a clip from the Adam Sandler movie Waterboy to give you a demonstration of what culture clashes look like. For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, the student doing most of the speaking was raised by his ‘momma’ in a swamp and was home schooled by her in all the important thing in life. He is attending college because he wants to play football.
Aggression in the video aside, entering into the culture of church is a very strange thing for those outside the church. Several years ago while living in the D.C. area I received a phone call from an inquisitive young lady about our church. She was raised religion neutral, meaning she was brought up neither for or against any particular religion. Her first question demonstrates the confusion involved in approaching another culture. She asked “Are your services open to anyone or only to particular people?” Little did she know how badly we wanted people.
After her first visit, my wife and I invited her over for dinner and to discuss her experiences at worship. She brought a bottle of wine as a gift for the hosts, which is a very customary thing to do in D.C. Of course, those of you who know the culture of conservative Christianity, we have a thing against drinking alcohol… despite the Biblical mandate for consuming it.
As we discussed the whole Christ and Christianity thing, we got to the part about baptism. I described the process of entering the water, confessing faith and obedience to Christ, and being immersed. She thought I was kidding. “Are you serious? I get in water? I go all the way under? In front of everyone?” Think about that for a second… for someone outside of Christianity, how weird does the idea of baptism seem? Could you imagine another organization using this practice as their method of extending belonging? For the uninitiated, we might as well be asking them to put on a chicken costume and run around the auditorium clucking. Would be about the same level of intimidation for some.
So, what kinds of things do we need to watch out for in the cultural transition for new converts? Or how about even before that? What do we need to be aware of culturally for first time visitors to our facilities. Not everyone knows to stand up when we get to the second part of “Holy Ground” after all.