Encouraging, Living, Reaching

Do Demographics Matter to an Assembly?

Do Demographics Matter to an Assembly?
Jan 11 Tags: relevancy | 3 Responses Print Save as PDF

Last month I submitted an article on music and hymns in use at the Lord’s Supper which generated lots of discussion. A response by a number of people was to keep the old hymns and educate the people as to the meaning of words and singing of tunes. I agree that education/teaching is vital but a changing world presents some unique challenges.

A British influence

Traditionally North American Assemblies have had a strong British influence and make-up. Whether from the U.K., from the Caribbean, or they are second or third generation believers out of that background. In the U.K. and the Caribbean, the same Hymn Books are in use so these people have little trouble with words and tunes.

Urban versus rural changes

I am most familiar with the situation in Ontario so I will use the assemblies here as an example. The assemblies in larger cities have a changing population from a variety of backgrounds. The assembly I attend in London, has in the last year gained four East Indian families.

This trend is the same in larger assemblies in Windsor, Hamilton, Pickering, Markham and Ottawa to name a few. The assemblies in rural Ontario generally have static demographics.

English as a second language

As I travel in Ontario and the U.S.A. there are more East Indians in North American Assemblies as opposed to fifteen years ago. There are also an increasing number of people from Egyptian and Asian backgrounds.  These first generation North Americans have English as a second language. There are also a few believers from Arab nations, which will possibly increase in the years ahead.

Experientially, in conversation with many of these new immigrants to North America, face to face, comprehension can be a problem. Some are difficult to understand and even those who are fluent may have some difficulty with idioms, poetry, and some have a limited vocabulary.

For some of these people words like “thralldom”, “effulgence”, “indelible”, and “rife” are never going to be part of their vocabulary.

Specific use of English can be tough

In the same way, there are phrases, idioms, imagery, and allusions in hymns that may are hard to grasp. Phrases such as “called to share the rest of God, in the Father’s blest abode” may resonate with many of us but be hard for new comers to appreciate.

Another example out of many possibilities would be “O safe and happy shelter! O refuge tried and sweet! O trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet”. The balance of the verse alludes to the story of Jacob’s dream of a ladder up to heaven.

Those less educated

I am also involved with New Life Prison Ministry marking courses from inmates across Canada. At the office near London, Ontario, nearly 11,000 correspondence courses are marked each year. In the material New Life produces, we aim for a grade seven reading level. A few inmates are well educated but the majority struggle with reading and comprehension.

In our correspondence with inmates, we are very conscious of the need for simplicity and clarity. So many words, terms, and phrases common to us would mean nothing to many of these people. I am reminded of the instruction in 1 Cor. 14 about people coming in and hearing “tongues”, there is nothing that will edify if they cannot comprehend what is being said.

Understanding the masses

Let me give one more personal example from three weeks ago. I was speaking from Phil. 1 and in verse 28 the word “perdition” is found. I stopped and asked if anyone (about 160 -180 people) knew the meaning and could give a definition. Not a single hand went up though I think a few there could explain the concept behind the word.

I gave a definition and explanation but I am sure if I ask the same question one year from now the response will be the same.

All of this to say we in Assemblies need to be conscious of shifting demographics. Traditionally Assemblies have been in suburbs and have been relatively static in their ethnic make-up. The potential for diversity is greater now than ever as more immigrants come to North America. It is good to be aware of the potential and the problems that might be present in coming years.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.

Gary McBride

Gary and Gloria were first commended to Zambia and then to Northern Ontario and there they were involved in the work at Northland Bible Camp. After twenty-eight years in the North they moved to Southern Ontario for nine years and were involved with New Life Prison Ministry (nlpm.com) and itinerant ministry. Gary and Gloria are now back in Northern Ontario, Gary is still involved in writing and broadcasting on Hope Stream Radio and an itinerant ministry.

3 Responses to Do Demographics Matter to an Assembly?

  1. Avatar
    Sam Thomas

    We have been the “East Indians” in some assemblies and have seen folks with varying backgrounds in the churches we’ve attended. The words and language used in hymns are not as confounding as much of the indifference we’ve encountered. There are many cultural differences and those issues dwarf the instances where we’d have to use “rife” to communicate daily…I suppose if we encouraged folks to look things up and take notes for later, it would benefit. As in all things, we as individuals have to be interested in assuming a Godly demeanor and abandoning worldly things…Part of this is adopting a new language…idiom…etc…We may not need advanced education but the KJV is getting archaic but it is still rich with the intent and honor intended for the word of God, something that those whose preference is sipping a latte while hearing the word of God, find daunting and out of place…
    We have to decide…”Do we and faith want to be popular, or absolute and correct…?”

    We do indeed have to be popular and find those that are lost or without light, in the “highways and byways”…We don’t judge, educate and mold into our likeness and then invite or “drag” into the presence of the Lord, but once there you’d think folks would learn on their own and sometimes a little guidance during worship is needed…Translation…”a little caring from our part…or a lot of caring…is needed…”
    There aren’t many opportunities for proper fellowship I’ve noticed, but perhaps our experienced is unique….Everyone is too busy…to the point that we’ve left for another church, where at least we’re closer to home and unfortunately, cannot seem to notice what we missed…which is in tragic in some form…
    In other words, I agree wholeheartedly…

  2. Avatar

    Gary, thanks again. I hear you. Watching 12-15 year old boys with a Caribbean background struggling to understand the old hymns was a real eye opener to me (they understandably went back to their iPhones which, sadly, seem a better fit). Sure, we could “educate” them. But … why? Are we that selfish? Are there no godly, scriptural hymns being written in modern English?

    Sure there are. But we are afraid of change and obdurate in our refusal to admit anything that does not originate from squarely within our own comfort zones.

    We will reap what we sow.

  3. Avatar
    Leonard VandenBerg

    Most of the hymns we sing in our assembly meetings are written in the 1800s. Why do you have to be dead for a 100 years before your hymn is acceptable? A hymn should be judged by its contents and not its nostalgia. We don’t have to delete the old hymns and exchange them for newer ones, but just add them. I remember when coming to Canada at the age of fifteen how hard it was to understand the archaic language of our English hymns. I love the old hymns, but in every age Christians need to be able to express their spiritual experiences and worship for the Lord in hymns and songs. I don’t expect older believers to spearhead the introduction of new songs, but to hinder a younger generation from doing so is unacceptable.

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