Monday, April 6, 2009

Is doorknocking culturally insensitive?

When I was in the Middle East missionaries were culturally sensitive in order not to put up barriers for gospel work. Women would wear the burka, men would wear long pants, they would not shake hands with their left hand, and married couples would refrain from public displays of affection such as hugging and kissing. The missionaries may not have agreed with all these cultural practices, but why would they offend on such matters, when it should be the gospel that offends?

I think here in Australia we ought to ask whether door-knocking is culturally insensitive and therefore question its validity in mission. The primary reason is that for many Australians their privacy is their God. People have fences and like security apartments for a reason - they don't want to be bothered. People make fun of Jehova's Witness and Mormons for a reason, do we want to be made fun of for that reason as well?

My observation is that this is mainly the case with middle class Australians. When I was door-knocking in Merrylands those most receptive to door-knocking were those living in housing commision, and immigrants. For the immigrants I was able to be of service because the church ran ESL classes, of which they were very thankful. I think we can tap into this some more.

Anyway, This post is long enough as it is. I'm not against doorknocking, I'm actually going to do it soon in Redfern. It's just some thoughts I had on mission after we woke a sleeping mother and embarassed a man coming to the door in his pj's. Both weren't happy about it, and neither was I.

7 comments:

Jason Au said...

The assumption is that when you doorknock, you do so in a way that paints you with the same brush as JW's, dodgy salesmen, etc.

Our mission used a line that basically amounted to "We just want to chat". It at least got us a little further than other's I've tried.

geoffc said...

I think the "we just want to chat" still paints us with the same brush, but that's not what I'm getting at.

It's still the privacy that people hold sacred which is being invaded. It's the same as telemarketers - the most annoying thing is that they are disturbing you from what you were doing originally. We don't like that.

StephenMac said...

I must admit, I dislike the thought of doorknocking... I too see it as different from walk-up because walk-up works in the public sphere, whereas doorknocking moves to the private...

HOWEVER... I saw God use doorknocking while we did it. We had so many great conversations and contacts to follow up from doorknocking that I have to admit that it is effective. The people we doorknocked were on the whole actually interested in hearing that their neighbours (we went partnered with our church) were praying for them and wanted to get to know them.

Some people are annoyed... most were positively amazed that their neighbours were talking to them...

geoffc said...

most were positively amazed that their neighbours were talking to them...

yeh which is why i'm going to do it in Redfern. They're my neighbours, I want to get to know them, and also let them know about the stuff the church is doing, seeing if they want to be involved. Youth, oz tag, coffee, and so forth. (They also aren't on the whole middle class, which makes it easier)

But I think key to doorknocking is that it has to be relational.

Ben said...

Hi Geoff,

Great thoughts.

The line that might crystalise the idea in other words is this: if you were a missionary in another country, where doorknocking was considered highly rude, would you still do it?

The answer is, of course, no.

I've just done a bunch of doorknocking in the western suburbs, and hitting muslims or hindus, or just about anyone from a non-Anglo background is a great joy. Quite often they'll invite you in for a cup of tea. You can even be so bold as to just say, "Would you like to talk about Jesus?"

Aussies on the other hand, as you point out, are often not happy about it.

I do think, though, that there's something in the approach. To be honest, I think "we just want to chat" is a terrible line. The subtext is, "we just want to chat (about Jesus so you'll become part of our collective, but we're dressing it up as harmless 'chat' so you won't close the door on us".

I think that's no good for two reasons. It's a bit misprepresentative, and it's also downplaying the gospel.

My favourite is the introduction. "Hi, I'm Ben, I'm from X church, and I'm just out introducing myself to the people in the neighbourhood and trying to get to know them better."

That makes it clear who you are, what you're there for, and opens the way to talk about Jesus, because you're his representative.

As to whether we should doorknock Aussies at all, I wouldn't want to 'shut the door' on it, since I think a local minister has good reason to knock on doors from the perspective of the public, but we certainly need to raise the issue.

Thanks, Geoff. I had never thought about it quite like this before now.

PS I think I'm going to work out west or in George's River region next year. There is so much goodwill toward Christians and cross-cultural ministry is where the fruit and the joy is, it seems.

Jason Au said...

I think I ought to clarify myself.

"We just want to chat" was an oversimplification of the instructions of what were apparently a highly successful tactic in order to actually get in more than one sentence out of the person and actually chat and ... ahem ... connect.

There.

Now, I think your privacy thing can be a mask for "I don't want to have relations which I don't facilitate myself, at all." This is not to say that this is privacy, but there's holding certain facts as hidden, and there's "I don't want to know you".

geoffc said...

As to whether we should doorknock Aussies at all, I wouldn't want to 'shut the door' on it, since I think a local minister has good reason to knock on doors from the perspective of the public, but we certainly need to raise the issue.

I totally agree. I will be doorknocking as a minister, and I will do it here in redfern for a number of reasons. But I wonder if we choose door knocking because we think it is the best way of connecting, or because we haven't really thought of anything else. I don't know. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we need to think it through carefully.

Now, I think your privacy thing can be a mask for "I don't want to have relations which I don't facilitate myself, at all." This is not to say that this is privacy, but there's holding certain facts as hidden, and there's "I don't want to know you".


It could be. But ppl get p'ed of pretty easily, it only takes you to interupt a television program they don't really like for people to be angry. From what I gather, people don't want to connect...well, at least not with the guy knocking on their front door while they're watchjing M*A*S*H repeats