Is your church Rah certified?
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2010, at 2:03 pm
Christianity in America is declining among whites but flourishing in ethnic and immigrant communities. This mirrors an international trend. Soong-Chan Rah, the Milton B. Engebretson associate professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, is preparing American evangelicals for a future global Christianity that will primarily be lead by Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans. In his book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Rah argues that Christianity has shifted from the white and Western culture to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As such, unless white Christians began to embrace multi-ethnicity as the new paradigm for the local church, their churches will not survive another generation.
I call the embracing of this global reality as concomitant with "Rah certification." I fully understand that many people live in homogeneous communities where multi-ethnicity is not as easily realized as it is near large cities. Rural communities tend to not be as diverse as urban ones. For others, however, living in or near cities and not having multi-ethnic church leaders and members may be a recipe for extinction. In 1900, Europe and North America accounted for 82 percent of the world's Christian population. In 2005, that number is down to 39 percent. To date 60 percent of world's Christians are in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Moreover, by 2023, half of America's children will be non-white. As these trends continue, America will likely have a white minority by 2050.
Rah notes in his book, and on video (see below), that today's evangelical church became enmeshed in the last 50 years or so with secular values like individualism, consumerism and materialism, and racism. According to Rah, in the last 50 years or so evangelicals have turned Christianity into a "me-centered" faith where one is concerned primarily with one's personal relationship with Jesus and his or her individual family while ignoring the social dimensions of the gospel's work in local communities. Evangelicals tend to embrace a materialistic and consumerist expression of faith, where families church hop to find the best youth programs or pursue the idols of comfort, ease, and professional success in comfortable church buildings. From the 1950s through 2000, evangelicalism grew significantly on heels of "white flight" away from "liberals" and minorities. Suburban Christian schools grew. Suburban churches grew. Some churches even moved entire congregations out of cities to the suburbs to get away from minorities.
Because of the changing demographics in America, the death of Christianity in Western Europe, the steady decline of Christianity among whites in America, Rah certification means that your church and denomination needs to abandon an individualistic, consumerist, materialistic, white flight-oriented vision of the gospel to one that seeks to develop multi-ethnic leaders and congregations wherever possible in light of the church's future (Revelation 5:9). Rah certification means that you pray and hope for your church and denomination to have multi-ethnic leaders in the near future and you are willing to invest in that reality. Rah's has an important concern: Are white Christians in the United States and Europe ready to submit to the spiritual authority of Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans or immigrants, Asian Americans, Latinos, or African Americans? According to Rah, they should get ready because the future is now.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.