Each year “Sparkle in the Park” brings over 10,000 residents, neighbors, guests, and friends to Main Street Park in our suburban community in Georgia. This city sponsored event welcomes food vendors, bounce houses, free family photographers, and live music that ensures that the space will be buzzing with energy. And the frosting on top of this independence celebration is the fireworks show that bursts right on top of the park dazzling and delighting the people who have gathered. This little community is bustling with a racial-ethnic diversity that has been shifting the neighborhood for several years. Once a haven for those who were escaping the diversity that was growing in downtown Atlanta, Gwinnett County has become one of the most diverse counties in the USA and ranks #7 according to US News Report. With a 75.1% diversity index, the community doesn’t look like it did twenty-five years ago. Therefore, the way we engage in ministry with this diverse community does not and will not look the same.
The sad part is that most of the churches in this county, like in other diverse counties, do not reflect the demographics around them. As noted in earlier blogs this past month, we tend to “reuse and recycle” church programming like it worked in those communities of the past, but we rarely pay attention to how we are looking at our communities today.  The beauty of diversity is that there are many kinds of new assets that are being brought to the community and community leaders are trying to figure out what that means and how they also address the rapidly changing nature of their communities.
Having entered a community as a business owner recently, I discovered more of the questions that both businesses and city officials were wrestling with as they contended with the diversity in our community. On the one hand, this diversity meant the city event planners were having to pay attention to the kind of music that they brought to the main stage for their “Rock the Park” summer events. Not everyone in the community were rock and roll fans, so how do you bring in the biggest crowd for a community that also loves jazz or R&B music, too? And what kind of food will bring people to “Food Truck Tuesdays?” Not everyone in this community thinks that hot dogs and hamburgers are the American staple anymore. For several families, Bahn Mi and tacos are the go-to family dinner meals. City event planners take time to really study the community, experiment with different activities and experiences to ensure that they are not just appealing to one group or another in this rapidly changing environment. This is something the modern-day church can learn from as well.
Paul, as a missionary to many diverse communities, learned what it takes to pay attention to the culture, the practices, and the expectations that arise in these cities as he went from one place to the other. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he has listened, learned, researched, and discovered what was important and valuable to the people in these places where he was called to serve. He goes on noting: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Our challenge as leaders of the Christian faith is to understand what that means today. We have had to shift our thinking as our communities have shifted with us and around us. David Bosch, a missiologist, points to the evolution in the western understanding of mission as missionaries began to realize how one-sided the ideas of Christianity had been when these missionaries took the Gospel into other countries and cultures. There were no expectations that Christ, through the Holy Spirit might already be at work in these villages where the Americans and Europeans had never been. Bosch points to an idea of “inculturation,” that embraces this concept of “dynamic equivalence,” which sees a duality of relationships recognizing the value of diversity in the community. This definition of “inculturation” that Bosch uplifts notes that the Holy Spirit and the local community are the primary agents at work striving for the good of the whole.
The Gospel message is always about striving for the good of the whole. Christ walked on earth as God incarnate because of this deep love for humanity in community. As the Christian church, it is our role and responsibility to look for the work of the Holy Spirit within our community, not just create programming that brings community to the church. We need to be paying attention to the community calendar, and striving to help the Christians in our church, be better Christians in our communities. What does this look like? It means showing up at the coffee shops that are having author readings and signings, it means partnering with the local library to bring cool events that capture people’s imaginations and help them see the beauty of the diversity around us. It means joining the local business associations and finding ways to be active in improving the community for all, so that God’s love will be recognized for everyone. The church is part of the community, and the community is where the church should be. Take time to immerse yourself in the community and learn about the Holy Spirit’s work outside of the church building, so that the church building can be more relevant to the community where God has planted it.
 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, NIV
 Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. 20th Anniv. Edition ed., Orbis Books, 2011. 464