Yesterday I mentioned Jason Craddock’s sermon from this past Sunday, talking about the church being like a Cliff Huxtable sweater. In the sermon, he encouraged the members of the main assembly at UCC (University Church of Christ) to not sit and wait for the members of the bilingual group to come on Unity Sunday. He encouraged people to cross the hall and visit the bilingual service.
I went and gave Jason a hug for that one. It’s something I’ve repeated for at least five years now, with little success. I still have people tell me: “I would visit the bilingual service, but I’m not bilingual.” Explanations about how one only needs to know either one of the two languages used seem to fall on deaf ears. (Actually, you don’t even have to know one of the two; we had a Japanese visitor a few weeks ago who only spoke Japanese)
So why don’t people want to visit a bilingual assembly in their own congregation? I have some guesses:
- Habit. People who have been attending one congregation for decades walk from their classroom to their usual seat without even thinking about it. If they didn’t, those who sit around them would be concerned.
- Loyalty. Before we hired our current preacher, one elder was participating in the bilingual service almost weekly. When we made the hire, he felt the need to support the new preacher; he was afraid that people would infer something negative if he weren’t in the main auditorium.
I think many people feel something of the same. I mentioned to one elder an idea about encouraging Bible classes to visit the bilingual service as a group; he said that he couldn’t feel good about encouraging that many people to miss the main assembly.
- Familiarity. This goes with the previous two. In the main auditorium, people are hearing a preacher that they enjoy listening to. They are singing songs that they know. The Lord’s Supper and offering are done in a way that they are used to. Going to another assembly, even in their own congregation, means giving up those things.
- Fear. There is a fear of having to interact with people that you can’t communicate with. I think that fear is overblown, as every one of our Hispanic members is making some effort to learn English and can carry on a cordial conversation. But that fear exists.
There is also a fear of not knowing what’s going on; 95% of what we do is translated, yet that 5% can make people uncomfortable. It can be awkward to hear people speaking a language you don’t understand.
- Cultural differences. One member, who visits the bilingual service fairly often, confessed that his wife goes even though she doesn’t like “all that hugging.” Latinos tend to be much more effusive with greetings than are many others in our culture. And that’s just one notable difference.
Those are some thoughts. It takes some effort to cross out of our comfort zones and reach out to people who aren’t like us. But, in the church at least, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Can you think of other barriers? More importantly, can you offer suggestions as to how we overcome those barriers?