Ethnic Church Planting Takes Patience, Wisdom

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Ken McCune, head of ethnic church planting at the Missouri Baptist Convention, says the world has come to Missouri, according to a recent article in The Pathway, the official news journal of the MBC.

“We have so many nations in Missouri. As Christians, we need to understand that this is an opportunity instead of a problem."
-- Ken McCune

Southern Baptists have started new churches for decades upon an expectation that these so-called “church plants” should be autonomous within three years. The time needed for an ethnic church to achieve independence varies, but one thing is certain: the world has come to Missouri, according to Ken McCune, head of ethnic church planting at the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC).

McCune said the ethnic population in the state grew 53.8 percent between 2000-2010 and that 45 percent of the ethnic population came here since 2000.

He said the MBC currently has about 65 ethnic churches and more are planned. Because of mobility in and out of the state and for other reasons, tracking ethnic groups is sometimes difficult. However, Darren Casper, who works with the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association in planting ethnic churches, said there are about 100 people groups in his ministry area.

Ethnic church planters naturally talk about the differences between those congregations and the traditional Southern Baptist church. However, Casper said Missouri Baptists should focus on important commonalities among all people.

“Whatever ethnic group we’re talking about there are still two similarities among all people groups,” he said. “The first is that all people are born into sin. The second is that the never-changing gospel is universal and the only answer for all peoples.”

How best to communicate that information to people with very different perspectives is the challenge of ethnic church planting.

“We need to conceptualize (the gospel) for them so they understand it … and connect to it,” said Luis Mendoza, a church planter in Kansas City and a field assistant with the MBC.

“We can’t reach them the way we deal with Anglos. Their worldview is different.”

Ethnic groups are often identified as having a distinctly different language and cultural perspective from native-born Americans. Those two elements are often cited as the top challenges in launching churches in ethnic communities.

McCune said his personal definition of an ethnic group is “someone whose language, religious, or cultural background is significantly distinct from what is often thought of as the norm.”

“We have so many nations in Missouri,” said McCune. “As Christians, we need to understand that this is an opportunity instead of a problem. There are some additional challenges in doing ethnic church planting. There are also a lot of opportunities.”

A new ethnic church has the best possibility of success when someone from the culture is leading it, he said. Still, even a common nationality or ethnic label can be a challenge because of cultural differences between similar groups.

Hispanics, for example, are Spanish-speaking people from Mexico, Central America, South America, some Caribbean nations, and the United States if they grew up in Latino communities. That represents dozens of countries and cultural differences.

Understanding the differences—even the most subtle ones—among people groups is critical in reaching them for Christ, say ethnic church planters.

“The more I learn, the more prepared I’ll be to share the gospel and more effective in reaching them,” Mendoza said.

McCune adds, “If they come to know Christ here, some will stay while others will take that back with them to their country of origin. Because of this both Missouri missions and international missions happen.”

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Rob Phillips

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