Cross-Cultural Friendships: UNLOCKING THE DOORS TO MISSION?

Written by John Neate

During 2021, I carried out novel postgraduate research with the Church of Pentecost-UK (CoP-UK), part of the international Ghanaian Church of Pentecost (CoP) and birthed out of an early collaboration with Elim Pentecostal Church.[1] This short article explores the results of my research into the potential role of friendships by members of CoP-UK – and Black Majority Churches (BMCs) more generally – with White British people, in tackling the cross-cultural challenges of sharing the love and good news of Jesus Christ.

Despite CoP’s ambitious global vision to be “a church where members go to possess their nations by transforming every worldview, thought and behaviour with values, principles and lifestyles of the Kingdom of God and thereby turning many people to Christ,” there is a significant gap in the UK context between aspiration and reality. This mismatch is shared by many BMCs in the UK which are often struggling to break out of their narrow ethnic core base in connecting with the White British communities surrounding them.[2]

Reaching White British people requires an understanding of the current postmodern culture in the UK and adopting evangelistic methods relevant to this context. Research literature highlights sweeping changes over recent decades in the UK faith landscape in which Christian ‘certainties’ are challenged, and where the relational and process natures of the faith journey are emphasised.[3] Key conclusions include: (a) friendship is likely to prove very important in connecting with White British people in a postmodern society; (b) this approach runs counter to some of the prevalent methods of evangelism used by CoP-UK (particularly, street evangelism); (c) it is not a ‘quick fix’ route to making Christian converts; (d) it must be genuine, unconditional and sustained; (e) it should not be treated as a project nor should individuals be targeted for friendship in a manipulative way;[4] and (f) it will require hard work, an intentional approach and a willingness to break out of familiar ethnic circles.

Vision 2023,[5] CoP’s five-year development and evangelism strategy, highlights the importance, in attempting to transform communities for Jesus Christ, of learning to walk alongside those communities and seeking their good. This implies intentional engagement and relationship and indeed, the possibility of friendship, yet a word search of Vision 2023 and the 2019 CoP-UK Trustees Report[6] contains no reference to the notions of ‘friendship’ or ‘relationship,’ and neither is intentional cross-cultural working a significant theme. Instead, there is a strong focus on traditional means of evangelism for example, tracts distribution, door to door visiting and street preaching – essentially ‘transactional’ rather than ‘relational’ methods. In the postmodern UK however, the personal and ongoing stories told through the lives of Christians become increasingly important, and integrity in our words, actions and behaviours (the incarnation of the gospel) is vital.[7]  

My research with three, geographically spread CoP-UK Districts (Reading, Leicester and Leeds) utilised questionnaire, semi structured interviews and focus group discussion in gathering a wide range of information, including the composition of participants’ close friendship groups, attitudes toward, and experiences of, friendship with White British people, and views on White British culture.

Despite the genuine desire to reach White British people, research showed that Ghanaian church members form the overwhelmingly dominant group in the survey Districts, with only a tiny representation (just 0.12 percent) of White British people. Additionally, there is no discernible difference in ethnic composition between the Akan-speaking assemblies and the English-speaking Pentecostal International Worship Centres which were created specifically to appeal to multicultural audiences and to reach the indigenous population.

Research demonstrates a clear acknowledgement that the almost universally cited street evangelism may not be working and that a new approach may be needed; only 11.9 percent of research respondents agreed that familiar methods of evangelism from Ghana were translatable to the UK.

For effective engagement by CoP-UK members with White British culture, their attitudes towards that culture will play an important role. However, only a quarter (26.6 percent) of participants describe themselves as liking White British culture, often characterising it in terms of ‘bad habits,’ for example, drinking alcohol and going to nightclubs – challenges to be overcome through evangelisation. No positive aspects of White British culture were spontaneously identified and while there are several possible explanations, it appears that CoP-UK members perceive White British culture through a dominant, negative lens, which prevents the recognition of its positive attributes.  

This research project surfaced an interesting puzzle concerning the potential role in evangelism of cross-cultural friendship between CoP-UK members and White British people. Paradoxically, while four-fifths (81.8 percent) of respondents believe it is important to find ways of reaching White British people for Jesus, and nearly three-quarters (72.1 percent) of respondents believe that making friends with White British people is a good way to share Jesus Christ’s love with them, only around half of this number (37.8 percent) believe that it is important to have White British friends (with 30.8 percent disagreeing). This suggests that while the idea of friendship with White British people as an approach to evangelism appears attractive to many, a significantly smaller number see it as their personal role to form these friendships.

The research identifies the very low numbers of White British friends held by CoP-UK members. Seventy-two percent of questionnaire participants listed none of their top five friends as White British and 68 percent of respondents listed no White British friends among their next 10 closest friendships.  The intentional development of close cross-cultural friendships with White British people has not previously been a significant element of CoP-UK’s thinking on evangelism.

Despite this rather pessimistic stocktake on friendship, the research process itself generated significant enthusiasm for a new approach, with calls being made for CoP-UK’s leadership to provide training for its members on this topic. I am also currently making plans for invited leaders of CoP-UK assemblies and Vineyard churches (predominantly White British) to meet together – over the social glue of food – to build relationships and to share experiences of the challenges of cross-cultural collaboration and mission. In the increasingly multicultural UK context, cross-cultural friendship between leaders across churches is likely to be key in modelling such friendship to their own church members and to their communities.

About the Author

John Neate is a Masters graduate in African Christianity from Liverpool Hope University. He is a member of the Vineyard Churches UK and Ireland (VCUKI) National Missions Team, with co-ordinating responsibility for VCUKI’s partnership activity in Africa. He has a passion for the development of multicultural church and for the pursuit of cross-cultural friendships.  Contact: john@johnneate.com


Footnotes

[1] John P. G. Neate, “The Role in Evangelism of Cross-Cultural Friendships by Members of the Church of Pentecost with White British People in the United Kingdom” (Masters Thesis, Liverpool Hope University, 2021). For more on the early collaboration between Church of Pentecost and Elim Pentecostal Church see Israel Olofinjana, Partnership in Mission: A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity (London: Instant Apostle, 2015).

[2] Babatunde Adedibu, “Reverse Mission or Migrant Sanctuaries? Migration, Symbolic Mapping, and Missionary Challenges of Britain’s Black Majority Churches,” Pneuma 35, no. 3 (2013): 418,https://doi.org/10.1163/15700747-12341347.

[3] Mark Ireland, “Engaging with the Search for Spirituality,” in Evangelism – Which Way Now?: An Evaluation of Alpha, Emmaus, Cell Church and Other Contemporary Strategies for Evangelism, ed. Mike Booker and Mark Ireland (London Church House Publishing, 2005), 185; Mike Booker, “Mission, Evangelism and the Church of God,” in Evangelism – Which Way Now?: An Evaluation of Alpha, Emmaus, Cell Church and Other Contemporary Strategies for Evangelism, ed. Mike Booker and Mark Ireland (London: Church House Publishing, 2005), 4.

[4] Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl, Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission, ed. Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, Resources for Reconciliation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 42.

[5] The Church of Pentecost, Vision 2023: Five-Year Vision Document for the Church of Pentecost Covering the Period 2018-2023 (Accra: The Church of Pentecost, 2019).

[6] The Church of Pentecost UK, Report of the Trustees and Financial Statements for the Year Ended 31st December 2019 for the Church of Pentecost UK (London: The Church of Pentecost UK, 2020). https://register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-search/-/charity-details/4038681/accounts-and-annual-returns.

[7] George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West… Again (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010), 103.

5 thoughts on “Cross-Cultural Friendships: UNLOCKING THE DOORS TO MISSION?

  1. Very insightful piece. I will be glad to be part of the ongoing collaboration between CoP UK and the Vineyard church.
    Be in Ng a CoP minister, I find this move very exciting in our bid to reach many for Christ

    Like

  2. Very good, truthful and thought provoking research. Well done
    Is it okay for you to bless me with a copy of your research. I’m a visiting lecturer at BCC and a minister of the church of Pentecost UK.
    I teach intro to missions

    Like

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