Magazine article The Christian Century

Shut Up and Learn

Magazine article The Christian Century

Shut Up and Learn

Article excerpt

At a meeting of ecumenical leaders working on church planting and evangelism, I noticed that the room collectively leaned in and listened carefully whenever the moderator spoke. He was Ruben Duran, the program director for new congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Under Duran's leadership, the ELCA has started an impressive array of worshiping communities in homes and bars and on the streets and in train stations. These communities have found different entry points into conversations with their neighbors, gathering around ecological issues, or concerns about paycheck lending, or the need for day care. The Denver area alone has 48 new ELCA communities, and nationally 352 new communities are being developed.

The burgeoning ministries are ethnically diverse. Though the ELCA has strong ties to people of European ancestry--especially Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, and Finns --Duran reports that people of color lead 56 percent of the new communities. Instead of reflecting the established denomination, these communities look like the neighborhoods in which they are planted.

When I telephoned Duran to find out how the denomination is doing so much, he was hesitant--as most church planters are--to talk about strategy, and he quickly dismissed the idea that he himself is a moving force in what is happening.

"There are no formulas. It's about listening and connecting." Then, like most people who are really good at starting new churches, Duran began to explain his strategy, describing how the ELCA works to connect neighborhoods, denominations, and seminaries.

"Luther says we live in and through our neighbor," Duran explains. "Most of our congregations were planted for the neighborhood." But when neighborhoods changed, congregations often resisted transformation. Members began commuting to attend church. Then, Duran said, "the neighbors became the object of the church's ministry rather than the subject." Duran wants the neighbors to be the subject again.

The church's strategy is to "shut up and learn"--to listen and reconnect with diverse neighborhoods, including the working poor and young adults who grew up in the suburbs but are now relocating in cities. "There are so many people in our neighborhoods who are doing God's work," Duran said, "but they just don't know it yet. …

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