Church Planting, Missiology, and Strategic Development
By Marcelo Gomes
Developers working with new faith communities in an ethnic context must get a sense of contextual missiology before they plan any course of action. When referring to “missiology,” we refer to the diversity of ideas and strategies in Christian mission work. We believe hybrid and multi-ethnic missional possibilities are the best strategies for ethnic ministries in the United States.
Church developers need to perform a general analysis of the social and theological conditions of ethnic communities and their cultural dynamics. They need to look at how the church views some controversial topics, such as human sexuality, which have become conflictual for ethnic churches. Additionally, church planters need to understand how first- and second-generation immigrants have experienced immigration, acculturation, and the consequences of their diaspora. Crucial in the church planting missiology is an understanding of ethnic historicity and the hybrid conditions of the immigrant context.
Also crucial is determining how to develop ethnic churches in the United States through organic innovation rather than through models from other places or adapting Anglo church practices to create an ethnic faith community. As we plan and discuss church planting with ethnic communities, we must acknowledge the formation and heritage of ethnic thought in community life as well as the structural realities of the ethnic groups around which we intend to develop a faith community. Church planting should be part of a plan that brings missional possibilities from hybrid logic.
Considering the context of ethnic ministries within The United Methodist Church, it is crucial to discuss ecclesial practices in a community-based and ethno-social context. These practices should define the leadership profile of church planting in ethnic communities and should help leaders grow in appropriate cultural intelligence for missional practices. Such a discussion should also consider the hybrid dynamics of the community. The question of whether ethnic new church starts in the United Methodist Church are functioning as institutionally isolated communities is also relevant. In addition, conflicts concerning denominational theological identity are often present in ethnic churches at both the congregational and leadership levels.
The ways immigrants from various backgrounds join to form church communities create religious spaces with theological and liturgical diversity and complexity. This is understandable, given the multitude of Christian traditions and ethnic heritages. However, this diversity and complexity are not always recognized or understood by those in supervisory roles in the denomination. Hence, pastoral work can be difficult and often conflicted.
The particularities of ethnic ministry have pushed local churches to focus heavily on their search for identity, leading those within the communities to become isolated. The isolation is exacerbated by language and cultural barriers. This situation is compromising one of the basic tenets of Methodist ecclesiology—connectionalism—and it is obstructing the growth and advancement of church-planting initiatives among ethnic communities in the United States.
Because of cultural and theological fragmentation in ethnic contexts, any ethnic planning must follow a hybrid architecture that considers all cultural, linguistic, and theological elements of the community.
If you want to learn more about hybrid models and strategies for new church starts with ethnic groups, feel free to contact me at [email protected].
 Hybridity acknowledges that identity is formed through an encounter with difference.
Dr. Marcelo Gomes is the Director of Training & Church Planting Systems with Path 1 at Discipleship Ministries.