Framingham Baptist Church is a multi-ethnic merge of River of Life Worship Center and Igreja Batista Brasileira de Framingham, in the MetroWest region of Boston. The congregation is mainly composed of Brazilian immigrants.
We started planting River of Life in 2014, and it has gone through several transitions over the seven years since its inception, in terms of location and target groups. When the church was 4 years old, we noted the need for a further transition from a predominantly Portuguese-speaking congregation to a truly multiethnic church that uses English as its primary language of worship — a process we are in to this day.
The exodus problem
The dilemma facing FBC Framingham is something many ethnic churches in America also experience. The growth of immigration to the United States has brought with it a proliferation of ethnic churches that can span districts and regions. However, as immigrants settle down and establish families, it is inevitable that the second and third generations will adopt the English language and the prevailing culture.
Their own new culture is different from their parents’, with the result that the new generations will leave the church where they grew up or abandon Christianity altogether — it is difficult for them to find a church that understands and reflects their reality. For example, Korean-American churches face what is called the “second exodus” of the second generation when they go to college.
An article published in Christianity Today reported one cause of the exodus is that members of the second generation do not master their parents’ native language, and leaders make no effort to present alternatives. Many of the first generation speak with a heavy accent and have little or no awareness of the American language and culture.
Becoming a multicultural church
The risk of this is that 20 to 30 years from now — when the original members age, die or return to their home country — a once vibrant ethnic church finds itself in the precarious position of being reduced to a handful of members or closing its doors. The church survives if the majority ethnic group maintains its presence through immigration, as is the case with many Korean and Hispanic churches.
When this is not the case, churches that have been successful at becoming multicultural have transitioned to English-speaking; however, they have not been able to resolve the ensuing identity crisis due to a lack of cultural adaptation. This was a warning sign for FBC Framingham because as we complete seven years of ministry, we find ourselves at this crossroads.
Learning to adapt
The time for the church to adapt culturally is when it is vibrant, and resources are available to transition to a multi-ethnic congregation, such as the primary language used in the main services. Transition is necessary to ensure continued growth and future survival.
One major fact to consider is that the children of current members often are born in the United States or arrived so young they spent their formative years here. They are mostly bilingual and operate primarily in English. Teens represent an influential demographic I refer to as the “new generation” and they need to be reached in a different way than their parents, which offers a challenge and an opportunity for the future viability of the church.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was written by Lierte Soares and originally published by the Baptist Convention of New England.