A faithfully integrative theology is always conceived and articulated in cultural context, whether that context is Boston, Beirut, or Beijing. For biblical illustration of this inescapable fact, one notes how Paul shaped his sermons and speeches for specific contexts. An examination of his sermons in Acts 13 (to Jewish Diaspora), Acts 14 (to rural animists), Acts 17 (to the cultural elite of the Areopagus), and his testimonies in Acts 22 (Jewish patriots) and Acts 26 (to the cultural elite of Syria-Palestine) reveal Paul's conscious and consistent determination to communicate the gospel in a contextually appropriate manner.
Further, cultural context is not an evil the theologian seeks to escape. God himself established culture when he created his imagers with culture-making capacities and told them to be fruitful, till the soil, and practice dominion. These inherently social and cultural commands, combined with the social and cultural nature of the eternal state (Rev 21, 22), assure us that the deeply cultural nature of human existence is something to be embraced rather than avoided.
The biblical testimony leads us to believe that theologians must affirm that God has woven "culture" into the fabric of human life, that theology is done in the midst of human culture and by means of cultural realities such as human language, and that the theologian must critically recognize the human rebellion and idolatry that has marred his cultural context precisely because his theology is crafted in the midst of, and for the sake of, that context. If one's theology is to be appropriately contextual, it must be crafted faithfully, meaningfully, and dialogically.
Exegeting your community is how you go about understanding the needs and expectations that the people living in your community have. It is from developing this understanding that you are able to know how to best impact your neighborhoods. Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Nicholas Smith share about some of the ways that his church is meeting the needs of the surrounding communities. As he was discussing how they come up with new ways to serve their communities, he stopped... looked at those of us listening to him, and said "sometimes we need to stop praying and go outside to talk to some people." That is the very essence of exegeting your community.
The key to doing this well is being flexible, willing to learn, and moving on what you learn. Hours spent researching your community and learning what makes it tick will ultimately be worthless if you are unwilling to make the strategic shifts necessary to act on the wisdom you have gained. How do you gain this wisdom? I believe it is slightly different for every neighborhood, but here are some basic suggestions that can help you get started:
• Camp Out
• Meet the Mayor(s)
• Know the Players
• Be Nosey
Leaders often wonder why they can't get traction in making the changes they know are necessary. They articulate a new vision. They change a few policies. They might even replace a few key people.
But nothing substantive changes. The problem is that culture is largely invisible to those inside of it. It's like water to a fish or air to a bird. It's simply the environment we live in.
Based on my experience, here are six steps you can take to change the culture of your own business, church, or ministry:
1. Become aware of the culture
2. Assess your current culture
3. Envision a new culture
4. Share the vision with everyone
5. Get alignment from your leadership team
6. Model the culture you want to create
One of the most significant trends in American churches the past 25 years has been the migration of people from smaller churches to larger churches. We will be providing more information in the future about this movement. The implications are significant and should not be ignored.
In my own denomination of some 46,000 churches and 16 million members, the concentration of people to larger churches is a clear and present reality. Look at some of these statistics that give evidence to this phenomenon.
• Less than one-half of one percent of these churches report an average worship attendance of 2,000 or more, but 12.6% of the total attendance of the denomination is now concentrated in these relatively few churches.
• Only 1.5% of all these churches have an attendance of 1,000 or more, but 22.2% of the total denominational attendance is in these congregations.
• Only 4.4% of the churches have an attendance of 500 or more, but 35.3% of the attendance of 46,000 churches is concentrated in just those few churches.
The first obvious question is "Why?" Why are people in increasing numbers stating a clear preference for larger churches? At this point most of our evidence is anecdotal, but we believe we can offer some reasons that will likely supported by more objective future research.
• The migration of the U.S. population to cities and other areas of greater population.
• The smaller church is not as likely to be the hub of the community as it once was.
• The multi-campus church model is opening the door for even larger churches.
• The church attendee is demanding quality that many small churches cannot afford.
• The larger church tends to attract leaders with they type of communication and leadership skills that in turn attracts more people.