Why Stained Glass? Other than a steeple adorned with a cross, there is no other clearer indicator of a “church” than stained glass windows. Ironically, stained glass serves as an incredible metaphor of identification not only in distinguishing architecture and the accompanying internal composition of pews and pulpit, but to identify Christ’s true church whose composition consists of people and purpose. The stained glass window is a collective of broken colored pieces which creates a beautiful, transparent picture that comes alive as light shines through it. As with the window, the local church should be a collective of diverse hues (ethnicities), living in transparency, and loving in authentic community that comes alive as Christ’s light shines through us all. However, this same diversity of hue is not seen in most local church congregations.
If a church is planted in an ethnically diverse community, the influence and impact of that church on its surrounding community should be reflected in the diversity of its congregation. If a church is planted in a racially homogenous community, then the impact of that church should be measured based upon its generational and socio-economic diversity.
I propose that racial/ ethnic diversity is intimately connected to generational diversity within a local congregation. Within the context of the U.S., segregation was both a social norm and legal standard, especially within the south. Unfortunately, the church has largely maintained its racial polarity following the reconstruction period of the Civil War up until modern times. I propose this is due to cultural expectations and societal norms as related to the distinct generations. In other words, the older the generation, the more segregated their world was.
The Millennial generation lives within a world that is more integrated and appreciative of diversity than any previous generation. However, churches at large are rarely racially/ ethnically diverse. Why is it that we are so far removed from legal segregation, and seemingly, by choice through attention or apathy, have maintained these lines within God’s House? I propose that the local church will become more racially/ ethnically blended not solely through sermons, but rather through social interaction and strategic integration.
Revitalize dying homogenous churches through cross-cultural church planters who lead strategic and intentional community engagement through the local church.
To unify the fractured fragments of the local church in order to reflect the multicultural mosaic of the Global Church.
Simply put, our goal is “to make a church look like The Church.” Our mantra is, “we’re putting the ‘community’ back in church and The Church back into the community.” Jesus didn’t establish a church as a secluded social club, but a people with a mission of social engagement and community transformation through the framework of relationship. This call is evident in both the mission of Jesus and method of Paul.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19 ESV
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (the law), for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:25-29 ESV
These texts encourage us to break out of our social comfort zones and relational insecurities. The U.S. is one of the few places where disciples can be made of “all nations” without leaving the country. Thats right, in the U.S. the great commission can occur through domestic evangelism and discipleship. Likewise, even Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia speaks of accepting one another and cultivating a disposition of appreciation with regard to racial/ ethnic diversity and recognizing that in Christ we are one. Contextually, this is not to say that race and ethnicity miraculously disappear within the Church, but rather there is no priority in identity of one over another with respect to our collective identity in Christ.
The Stained Glass Project is allowing Refuge Community Church to create a model for ministry where Sunday Worship is valued, yet decentralized so that the life of the church can thrive outside of a one hour and twenty minute window. The distinctions between local churches on a micro level and denominations on a macro level are often theological, but even more so cultural. Many parishioners choose to attend a church for less theological reasons and more for social comforts that speak to or affirm their identity. For example, the differences between the “white church” and the “black church” are not ultimately theological, rather in music, style, and social norms within each respective context. In other words, most people choose a church for surface reasons like music and dress and subtly deeper reasons like acceptance and affirmation. The Stained Glass Project seeks to train leaders and consult churches on the areas of communication as well as worship.
A Word of Wisdom & Case For Caution
Church Planters, if you want to feel like you’re standing in the middle of a centuries old conflict so deep that it runs to the very foundation of America, then this is for you! If you want to break people’s hearts while scripture replaces their comforts with Jesus’ calling, then this is for you! If you want to be misunderstood as the destroyer of sacred space while you build bridges and cultivate healthy community, then this is for you! If you want to live a life of self-sacrifice in order to right a wrong that has become a cultural norm, then this is for you! If you want to engage with people that see you as their enemy, leave your comfort zone for a wilderness experience, and walk into a context that smells equally of death and potential new life, then this is for you!
What I have found is that church planting has in many cases become a means for pastors to create their own worlds. These worlds are often monolithic and uni-cultural. I believe this is inadvertent and unintended, but a reality nonetheless. There are more churches being planted, but very few are serving as bridges between the subcultures within American Christianity. I believe if we focus more on mission and motivation as we do on the metric of attendance and attraction we will have a greater impact on the surrounding communities as we plant and cultivate our communities of faith. We need more church planters that sacrifice some tangible signs of success for the sake of restoring, revitalizing, and reconciling the churches that are dying. For the North American Mission Board church planting has essentially become a zero sum game, with as many churches dying and closing their doors for the last time as those opening their doors for the first time.
Hope For Tomorrow & Help For Today
Leaders need development, church-planters need new models, and local churches need help. The Stained Glass Project offers support and development from the individual to the national church planting and denominational network.
The American church is limping forward in segregation within a race that she is destined to run unified. Churches are dying because they refuse to live in unity with their community. Churches are being planted that maintain the cultural divide and community disconnect and The Stained Glass Project is presenting and fostering a model for a third option. We believe that decline does not need to end in death. The Good News is a story of resurrection where death is simply the framework of a new beginning. The pieces of the very fragmented American church need to be reconciled and restored. The answer can no longer be in the silos we have erected. Perhaps the solution is in the rubble and brokenness of decline where so many churches currently reside. Maybe the solution to the stagnant and dying church is not just planting more churches, but also replanting churches. At The Stained Glass Project we want to utilize the narrative of resurrection to counter the trend of local church death and utilize the church planter to reconnect the local church to her community. Make no mistake, we are not bringing churches back from the dead, rather birthing new, glorified churches from the dust of the empty tomb. This is a ‘new creation’ framework the struggling American Church so desperately needs!