Understanding the cultural context of where you are planting your church is critical. The better you understand your context, the deeper you can plant a gospel community.
I once met a church planter in Kansas City who set a goal to have 1000 conversations with people in the community before he launched. He told me he wanted to understand the community from people who actually lived there. He learned a ton about his context through these conversations.
After all, it was Paul who reminded the Corinthians he had become all things to all people so he might save some?
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone,to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
The only way to communicate the Gospel effectively is to understand your audience and their cultural context. After all, North America is a diverse place. And it’s growing more diverse every year. Church planters must be aware of these changes and be able to contextualize the gospel for the people group to which God called them.
The Gospel is made more beautiful when it’s made relevant to the people you’re trying to reach.
Case Study – Rural Wisconsin
As the Director of NewThing, I have the privilege of meeting with lots of church planters. Recently, I met with a group of church planters from rural Wisconsin. The leader of this group has a BIG VISION to start lots of new rural church planting networks. We agreed, that to plant well in rural contexts, they would need to understand it as well as they could.
Back to my planters from Wisconsin.
We spent time generating a list of what they knew to be true about the culture where God was calling them to plant. I present these observations we made about their ‘rural context as a case study for you. These planters were keen and attentive to the details of their context. I offer their observations as an example of how you might try and understand your own context better.
- Absentee fathers. (They tend to work all of time.)
- Heaving drinking as a social activity
- Monocultural yet it’s changing.
- Large population of Hmong people.
- Most people participate in some sort of outdoor activity
- People hangout in each others garages.
- Apathy to the Gospel
- Strong work ethic.
- People attend summer festivals
- Pace of life is slower allowing people to spend more time together.
- People get involved but it’s generally school and sports.
- People appreciate bi-vocational. Many people have several jobs.
- Traditional communities with a strong focus on helping your neighbor
- Lots of children
- Young adults don’t stay – they move away.
- Many church buildings yet not many vibrant Gospel communities.
- Terrritorialism from other church leaders who feel threatened by the new church.
The good news is that these planters demonstrated a thorough knowledge of their context. See, If you are going to plant in rural Wisconsin, you want to know these kinds of details. Now they can plant churches that reach people where they are.
The more you understand about your culture, the better your able to communicate the Gospel.
What about you?
To be sure, there are many elements of a culture. The more you know about yours, the better. To help you, ask the following questions about your context:
- What are the social and cultural organizations?
- What language or languages are spoken?
- What are the customs and traditions? How do these vary buy people group?
- What is the state of arts in the community? Music, dance, cinema, theater etc.
- What are people’s religious affiliations? What are the predominate faith traditions?
- What is the system of government? Who are the local leaders and government representatives?
- What the predominate economic systems at work in the community.
- How do people like to spend their leisure time?
There are other questions to ask, but this ought to get you thinking…and talking.
Other things you can do…
- Make a list of everything you know about your context.
- Ask the people who live there to tell you about the context.
- Study the history of the place.
- Understand the demographics of the place.
By the way, I am assuming you live in the culture you’re trying to reach. If you aren’t, this must be your first step.
Remember, the better you understand your context, the deeper you can plant a gospel community.
I had the privilege of writing this article for Church Planter Magazine. It ran earlier this month. The magazine is a GREAT RESOURCE that you should check out.