moldy christianity

In response to the Blunt Prophet‘s question: “Does Christianity draw a certain type of person? Do churches look for certain type of people?”

I completely identify with the frustration that abounds when I look at my congregation and see people that look more or less like myself.

Whether we like it or not, Christianity is very segregated–if not by races, by economic status, denomination, culture, and location. How many inner-city dwellers go to the burbs for church? How many suburbanites trek into the city every week for worship? I only know one or two people that commute to church. I actually tried it this year and I felt very out of place because I didn’t live nearby and couldn’t be involved in most of their groups and activities. They also did not have anyone in my age group; and for a girl who already has many trans-generational relationships, that lack is severe. Living where I do (the “Bible belt of the Midwest” ) there’s a church on every corner and the neighborhoods basically stick with each other. Sadly, these neighborhoods are usually divided by the characteristics I mentioned above.

So how does one break that “mold”? I suppose by either tacking a hacksaw to your lifestyle and moving to another part of the state/city or simply by making conscious, deliberate decisions and efforts that send people out and bring people in.


24 thoughts on “moldy christianity

  1. I think it’s just going to take time. Older churchgoers grew up with segregation and I think there is still an underlying mindset there on both sides.

    The only way churches will become more integrated is when our communities are more integrated. Unfortunately right now income classes are not changing dramatically since too many people are addicted to government handouts and it enables people to live in poverty without needing to work their way up. The really sad part is that kids raised in that environment don’t know any other way of life and will end up passing it to the next generation.

  2. Hey Tim, thanks so much for commenting.
    I don’t fully agree about government handouts being the problem. I do know that those programs have been cheated and taken advantage of by many, so I’m not totally biting you here.
    Unless you’ve been on welfare or government assistance and can speak from experience, I’m just not sure you (or I) can understand those stuck in that situation.
    One small example is a disabled gentleman my friend assists at her job. He is ‘too disabled’ and uneducated for a job that pays enough for him to live on and ‘too able’ to want to stay on SSI. He has a few side jobs to provide some income because the gov’t only gives him a pittance. When the gov’t sends him his food money check for $4.75 and that’s supposed to last him the month… you tell me if he’s taking advantage of the programs. Sure it happens, but the government sponsored programs are necessary for many people.

    Anyway, who says the ‘poor’ have to do the integrating or change how they live? what about the ‘rich’ who segregate themselves into immaculate little communities with security guards at the gates? What about the example of Detroit? It lost government money because in the 2000 census the population of the city dropped below 1 million. Why is that? Because people are leaving the city to die and not taking care to restore their neighborhoods and communities. Instead, they’re emigrating to the burbs and increasing the segregation in that area.

  3. What disturbs me about this is that churches have a ‘target market’ much like a business. The attitude of, “These are the types of people we are going to try to attract. Someone else can worry about the people who don’t fall into this category.” really bothers me. I don’t know what to do about it, but it bugs me.

  4. I definitely think this is a complex issue so I will just say one thing: I think that, by and large, the congregation of a church should reflect the population of the community in which it sits. So (unfortunately?) this will often mean that a church will often appear segregated but that may be because the neighborhood is segregated as well. I am a big proponent of people attneding churches in their own community so that may mean that there isn’t a lot of diversity within each individual church. I am not saying that is a good thing, I wish neighborhoods could be more integrated, but that is another issue all together.

    Anyway, who says the ‘poor’ have to do the integrating or change how they live? what about the ‘rich’ who segregate themselves into immaculate little communities with security guards at the gates?

    I agree, integration should be done by all. But do you expect people that start to make more money to stay in poor neighborhoods. I know that sounds harsh, but really, if you are living in a small, run-down apartment and started making more money, wouldn’t you move? Now even if people are moving away that doesn’t mean they should stop caring and helping out the poor in the communities that they have left…

    Heh, I don’t know, this is quite complex…

  5. “What disturbs me about this is that churches have a ‘target market’ much like a business.” That would bother me too. Fortunately I haven’t really known many churches to act like that! :)

  6. MattJ, you’re right. I may have not addressed the ludicrousy of my last post ;) But there is something to be said for both ends of the spectrum making moves inward towards each other.
    Speaking of staying in the city, I personally know two families who chose to buy houses in inner city neighborhoods in which they felt called to live. One family renovated their house, ministers to their neighbors, and are very active in their local congregation. This has big effects. The neighborhood looks nicer and property values goes up (one house at a time). It’s a safer place because people are looking out for one another. the church they’re in is now more diversified simply because they joined. They’re learnng about others and loving them where they are and they are being loved right back. So there are stories of people going against the ‘American Dream’ grain and choosing something countercultural.

  7. Jen: I’m with you on the target market problem. I think every congregation hoping for growth will come upon that issue! There’s a local church at which most of my friends go to. They’re in the process of changing a lot of things around and many of the older members are angry about it. They’re anti-advertising and anti-marketing the church because they see that as becoming too worldly. the other side of that is the fact that a church is a business just like any other. Money, workers, and success is essential for survival. Now, I don’t mean to discount God’s work in it and the place for the spiritual here… but that’s just how I see it. And so far I havent’ seen many churches that succeed either way. One way is to stay as you are and potentially see numbers fade and people leave… another way is to become so seeker-sensitive and, yes, worldly, that the church is not only where people worship, but they do business deals, buy Starbucks, and go shopping. My stomach turns just thinking about it!

  8. I personally know two families who chose to buy houses in inner city neighborhoods in which they felt called to live. One family renovated their house, ministers to their neighbors, and are very active in their local congregation. This has big effects. The neighborhood looks nicer and property values goes up (one house at a time).

    I think that is awesome! (I actually know a couple who have done the same thing) I do think that helps out a lot. But then the problem that arises is this: over time the neighborhood looks nicer and property values go up thereby essentially “kicking out” the poor that can no longer afford to live there… then what?

  9. Interesting thought. But let’s not discount the fact that the ‘poor’ (everyone please pardon my generalizations in this whole topic) could be changing things for the better too. As property values go up, the schools get more money from taxes and education increases and kids have better chances for improving their life situations. Hopefully this wouldn’t backfire on those who established these communities, but would instead bring their families and neighborhood more security and wellness.

    My heart gets caught up in these passages; and I hope it applies to us today even though we are not in the promised land of Israel. Let it be so…


    D’varim/Deuteronomy 30:15-18:
    “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…”

    D’varim/Deuteronomy 15:7-11:
    “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

  10. Churches have to make an effort to be diverse. My church intentionally moved into the city to break the mold. When we get to heaven, the nations will be there. People from every ethnic group, every economic and social class. That’s part of the beauty of heaven. We should strive, as Christ’s body, to look this way before we get to heaven.

  11. Obviously giving to the poor is the right thing to do and God will bless you for it. I don’t really think our government should give to the poor for us. Lets face it, what government program or handout ever solved anything. As far as I know there is never enough. Those that get want more and because it’s coming from the government and not from the hand of the givers its free so why stop taking it!

    Don’t get me wrong, people that need to be taken care of should be taken care of. But when the problems you create become bigger than the solution you need to adjust. If you really needed to be disabled in order to get a free money lots of people would have to stop doing drugs and get off their couch and start learning skills to get a job. They might actually emphasize education to their kids knowing its the only way to survive and future generations would be better for it.

    I do feel strongly about this since my wife is a Big Sister to her second Milwaukee inner city child. You may feel like the ‘wealthy’ people should intergrate with the ‘poor’ but I have never felt very safe in the inner city. Not only is government money used to enable people to not work, but many use it to buy drugs. From my experience with my wifes Little Sisters, drug use is open and rampent part of life in the inner city. Her last little sisters Grandparents lived with them and all they would do was sit around and smoke pot all day. We should not be enablers thats not right either. If you could only see some of the looks we get when driving my wife’s little sister home. Believe me I never let my wife drop her off alone.

  12. People will use your money irresponsibly too, not just the government’s. People will also use their paychecks irresponsibly. even people outside the inner city (yes, even executives, Christians, politicians, or soccer moms) could buy drugs, be lazy, or abuse “the system”. Just wanted to add some larger scope to what I see as very limited view.
    I don’t want to be unrealistic, but after the experiences I’ve had–some quite negative–I still haven’t lost hope or a heart for those in need. We’re called to do our part.
    It’s really a shame that the bad environments in the inner city that you’ve witnessed have essentially been left to perpetuate themselves. It’s so hard to stop that cycle, you know? But someone has to try. And if believers aren’t the vessels of justice and rejuvenation and growth… then we may be missing an important role we are called to play.

  13. I think what Tim is saying is that it’s easier for people to abuse a handout from the government because there’s no real ‘person’ that they’re betraying by doing so. Of course there will always be people who will abuse charity no matter where it comes from. God knows that, but it didn’t stop him from telling us to give to the poor.

  14. I attend a Lutheran high school. If there’s ANYTHING that bothers me to no end, it’s the way the administration tends to respond to students who are to discovered to have serious problems with drinking, drugs, or even serious family disputes. Generally, it’s something along the lines of, “Goodbye, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Not exactly a Christian way to approach the problem.

  15. The Adam & Eve story is taken from a Chaldean myth. It never really happened. Christians say we need a savior, since those people in the garden were disobedient. Since the Adam & Eve story never really happened, we DO NOT need a savior. We are our own savior. By trying to live a righteous life, we progress thru many lifetimes to a perfected state.


  16. So because the Chaldean’s had an Adam and Eve story that makes it false?
    There’s also a babylonian tablet talking about the tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. Does that somehow prove it did not happen?

  17. Lots of good comments. You can certainly pick a subject. Enough views to populate a book dealing with all of them. I think the original thought concerning why people attend only the church of their race, class or other category (not exactly how you worded it) is interesting. I’m sure there are churches that prefer to keep their ‘own kind’ as their congregation but those churches are not doing right. Often, I think the seperation is due to a church being in a particular neighborhood and it is convenient for the people who attend. For example, a church in a native American community would most likely have more native Americans. It might not be that they do not want others to attend. But it would be wrong to leave ones own church to attend theirs just to prove a point especially if God had put them in their original church. God moving someone is an entirely different circumstance. People tend to want to live close to people of their own culture and thus end up going to a church of similiar church and in close proximity to their home. I think people will usually work it out without any outside force getting involved. If a church is showing rudeness toward someone who is not of their particular culture, they should be ashamed and read their Bible over again. For the person who is basing his faith on a story or legend, I’d try to do better than that since eternity is at stake.

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