We recently released this short video by TEAM videographer Cary Brown, a profile of a couple in Peru who live in an impoverished neighborhood and commute to a much nicer part of their city to worship in a relatively wealthy church.
Cary’s excellent work (and this accompanying story) is a glimpse of a fairly rare phenomenon. In many — if not most — parts of the developing world, it’s highly uncommon for people to cross socio-economic divides to attend church. Poorer people tend to worship in “poor” churches, and wealthy people tend to worship in “rich” churches.
You could probably point to evidence that this is also the situation with the church in many North American communities. But the division is even more pronounced in the developing world.
From Mexico City to Mumbai, this is a significant challenge for missions. In many countries with a growing church, statistics for a nation as a whole might lead one to believe that the population of Christ-followers is large enough for missiologists to qualify the nation as “reached.” But segment those numbers by household income or neighborhood income, and entire “unreached” populations will emerge. The gaping income disparity between rich and poor in many of those countries is reflected in the church by equally severe stratification. The gospel may take root and flourish among slum-dwellers — or, less often, among the wealthy — but it rarely jumps to other rungs on the income ladder.
The desire and ability to minister across racial and socio-economic lines is an important sign of a church’s missional health. Missionaries like TEAM’s Craig Querfeld are working hard to get otherwise healthy churches to take the next step and develop a passion for reaching out beyond their own “kind.” This is crucial for successful church reproduction in the long-term.
Often it is easier to travel around the world to minister to people who are socio-economically like us than to befriend the “others” living next door. This goes for churches and believers in the developing world just as much as for those anywhere else.