The neighborhood is changing. What was a corner gas station is now a hipster coffee shop. The old hardware store is now serving the best carne asada tacos in town. The sticky floors of an old movie theater have made way for a Buddhist temple.
America as a whole is really one big, changing neighborhood. Lots of new people are “moving in” who don’t look like the former residents. And the real question—one we don’t always want to answer—is whether we as Foursquare leaders are moving into and getting traction in these new neighborhoods from the get-go.
Are we willing to go into these in-motion, often messy, neighborhoods and help determine the future of how the streets, the structures and, most important, the people will land? Or are we too busy with our pre-existing, tried-and-true ministries that “ain’t broke”?
We’ve heard it before. But let’s really think about it: For the first time since the U.S. Census Bureau has been tracking demographics, according to census data released in May, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half of the children born in the country.
Did you hear that? Half.
Some demographers estimate the tipping point in U.S. diversity—the time when whites become a minority—will come as early as 2040. That means that, if you’re white and, say, 35 years old, you will become part of the next major U.S. minority before you hit retirement.
Un-Homogenizing Our Hubs
These facts pose an irony: Why, if our neighborhoods are changing, are so many churches full of people who all look and act the same? From their economic to political to racial to educational makeups, congregations often look more like homogenous hubs than integrated communities reflecting the diversity of God’s people.
While the gospel is timeless, we are not. We must renovate, remodel and update how we present the gospel or risk growing irrelevant in this changing neighborhood.
Our theme this year, “Speak—Reclaim Our Voice,” means reclaiming the unique diversity embedded in the DNA of Foursquare. Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of The Foursquare Church, evangelized in the South when segregation was rampant, spread the gospel among gypsies and helped establish Hispanic ministries in Los Angeles. She always sought to minister outside contemporary color, ethnic and status separation lines.
Like Sister Aimee, many Foursquare churches today are being intentional about how people relate to one another. By taking the simple step of “eating together,” they are seeing God work in life-transforming ways. Whether through simple potluck dinners or weekly meals with people experiencing homelessness, these churches are finding that “meal time” is a great time to embrace diversity and introduce people to Jesus.
Relationships Change Lives
At Hope Chapel Makiki (Makiki Foursquare Simple Church Network) in Honolulu, potluck gatherings are the perfect pairing to go with Hawaii’s hospitality culture. Close to 30 Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Hawaiians and Caucasians gather for the church’s multicultural, multilingual “Celebration” services on Sundays, which include a unique setup: Everyone gets to eat together.
“We worship for 30 minutes, we eat brunch together for 30 minutes, watch a short teaching video, discuss, and pray for one another in the last 20 minutes,” says Pastor Corey (last name withheld for security reasons) of the service format meant to minor on structure and major on relationship-building.
Growing relationships by way of a common “table time” is missing from most churches today, he says, but was important to the formation of the early church in Acts 2.
“Church gatherings alone—the typical kind today—leave out the second half of the ‘pairing’ noted in Acts 2:42,” explains Corey, citing the verse that records the early church’s dual practice of engaging in “teaching and fellowship” as well as “breaking of bread and prayer.”
Hope Chapel Makiki’s informal meetings afford the leadership team the freedom to build relationships, which Corey calls “the front door of the church and the context of life transformation.”
His advice to pastors and church leaders reaching out to multicultural communities is to “find a way to devote as much time and energy to the fellowship of the believers as you give to the teaching of the apostles in all of your larger gatherings, and thereby make room for the Holy Spirit to renew your hearts, minds, souls and relationships.”
Connecting Across the Table
At the San Fernando Valley Japanese Foursquare Church in North Hollywood, Calif., pastored by Spring and Paul Iwata, the couple’s “Potluck Lunch Ministry” has been going successfully since 2007. But its rich history dates to the mid-1980s, when they pastored a Free Methodist Church.
“A former chef was one of the first fruits of our ministry,” Paul tells foursquare.org. “He noticed that my wife and I were still working after the services instead of going home, and decided to start cooking for us, including our daughter, Jena, who was 2 years old.
“People who attended our church smelled what he was cooking and wanted to eat with us,” Paul continues. “Among them were young Japanese students who attended the local college, bringing the total to around 10 people who ate with us. Other attendees started bringing food every week, and thus began the tradition of our lunch potlucks.”
In 1992, the Iwatas experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Deciding to leave the Methodist denomination, they started a church with a ministry to Japanese and began holding services at The Church On The Way (Van Nuys Foursquare Church) in Van Nuys, Calif.
When their church moved to North Hollywood in 2003, the Iwatas rented space from an Assemblies of God congregation and developed close relationships with other people groups that met there, which included Armenians, Persians and Hispanics. Several times a year, they participated in international potlucks after joint services with all of the congregations in the building.
“It afforded us opportunity to show off our ethnic food on tables arrayed with colorful sushi and rice balls wrapped in seaweed,” Paul says. “Our church had to provide enough servings for 200 people.”
Despite the work it required, Paul says the dinners made for “a fun food exchange” among vastly different cultures. “Sharing food and fellowship together became an excellent occasion to know one another and resulted in networking of our ministries,” he says.
Today, Paul says, ministry time during the 90-minute potluck gatherings is mostly personal.
“As pastors, we make sure nobody is sitting alone during our lunches, especially new people,” Paul explains. “After eating, people praying for people can be heard above the hum and huddles of conversation.”
For any potluck ministry to ensure a smooth operation, he says plenty of “Christian diplomacy, human sensitivity and a lot of flexibility are needed.”
Taking Church Outside
In Henderson, Nev., every Friday morning at 11:15, homeless men and women from the desert around the city gather beneath a gazebo at a local park for a special church service called Friday Morning Church in the Park (FMCP).
While they’re taking part in a brief, quarter-hour service of worship and Bible teaching, leaders and volunteers from Neighborhood Church (Henderson Foursquare Church) and other churches in the area are preparing a table for them—where everyone will join for an after-service meal.
Dedication to relationships is why FMCP is successful. The service has been held every Friday for six consecutive years—without fail. “We have never missed a Friday with these men,” says Assisting Minister Linda Fendzlau, who oversees the ministry that attracts 25 to 60 people a week.
A group of preachers and worship leaders takes turns delivering the Word each week. “It is very important to us that not only are we ‘breaking bread’ with the homeless culture, but also with friends who attend churches very different from Foursquare,” Linda says. “It has been a blessing to see no walls—literally and figuratively—at FMCP.”
The “church in the gazebo” ministers to whoever comes, no matter their ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status or faith.
“Young moms, children, elderly, men, women, criminals, drug addicts, alcoholics, black, white, yellow, brown—if they come, then the Lord sent them. We believe this,” Linda asserts.
Working with FMCP has transformed her life: “These people have taught me humility, consideration, honor and respect. And I see my whole purpose in this life so differently than ever before. Through this church I found my place in the streets … always looking for ways to create community.
“It was from my FMCP experience that I realized the need people in general had for community,” she adds. “The need wasn’t only within the homeless community but in almost every area of the society in our city. How do we reach people for Christ if we cant even meet them or have a conversation?”
Across the U.S., local communities are changing fast. At risk of being lost in this multiethnic translation is an emerging generation of Americans who need to know Jesus. That risk is challenging Foursquare churches to renovate their ministries and open their doors to people—no matter how they look, act, dress or talk.