In my last post on multiethnic churches Eric rightly raised questions on the compatability of multicultural and subcultural approaches to mission. Many within the missional movement advocate a subcultural approach, with a hat tip to the homogenous unit principle of cross-cultural missiology. However, some within the missional movement, like myself, have come to question subcultural mission as an ideal on both biblical and practical grounds. Here, I would like to graphically illustrate some of the why.
Conventional missiology emphasizes the need to meet people where they are at, in their own context. I agree with this in principal but in practice one of the unfortunate side effects has been the segregation of the church, at a time when our culture is becoming increasingly pluralistic.
If we consider the example of easterners and westerners, a subcultural approach would be to plant different churches amongst each subculture, corresponding to the first line of the diagram. In countries like America or Australia this might lead to the formation of ethnic churches.
The problem is, multicultural situations are not that simple, there are grey areas the subcultural approach does not adequately address. For starters, second generation migrants are usually more indigenized than the first, this leads to the phenomenon of westernized easterners who feel out of place in both easternized and westernized churches. But the situation is not static for westerners either, eastern influence through migration and tourism and global communications also leads to the phenomenon of easternized westerners, who also feel out of place in both easternized and westernized churches.
So what do we do with these biculturals, who actually represent a third subculture? Well the subcultural approach would suggest we plan a church amongst them too, corresponding to the third line of the diagram. But wait, maybe there is actually a fourth subculture lurking there, since weaternized easterners and easternized westerners aren’t the same. Or maybe even a fifth? You see the problem? The subcultural approach used uncritically in such a fluid context as our own can lead to an infinite regression of contextualization. Where does it end?
This leads me back to the second line of the diagram. My own church is evolving more like this, as a church where easterners, westerners, easternized westerners and westernized easterners try to figure out what unity in Christ means together. In more monocultural contexts churches will naturally be more monocultural and I have no problem with that, but the more multicultural the context the more need I see for multicultural churches. Where I see a model of multiple subcultural churches working best is in contexts where the lines between subcultures is more strongly demarcated. But even there, for theological reasons highlighed in the video, I’m not sure it should be considered as a temporary necessity, not an ideal.
Now I am sure you could think of other contexts where cultural overlap occurs.