Radical Racial Reconciliation Through Small Groups
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Radical Racial Reconciliation Through Small Groups

How NewStory Church created a safe place to discuss the hot topic of race
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The deepest work that needs to happen really happens within the small group, and flows from there out into the rest of the church. We regularly offer racial reconciliation small groups where people come together to intentionally engage in the hot topic issues around race. So for example, this season we are utilizing TED talks and looking at issues of mass incarceration, gun violence, systemic racial injustice, and really digging into those areas. It's meant to be a safe space for people who either have a lot of exposure to these topics and people who have none. It's always interesting conversations.

We try to set people up really well, so we say, as part of a multiethnic, reconciling church there is a 100 percent chance they will be offended and a 100 percent chance that they will offend somebody. We have to accept that and assume that will happen—not because anybody is intending to, just because we don't know. One of the biggest issues around racial reconciliation is that there's so much ignorance. We make a lot of assumptions. Until we get together in the same room and start working those things out, we will always have ignorance and assumptions. So we make it okay to say wrong things, and we make it okay to say things that might step on somebody's toes.

What we try to do is teach and train people how to have conversations—how do you actually go to somebody and say, "Hey, when you said that, it really hit me the wrong way" or "That was offensive to me because of this." And not to go to that person accusing, but go to them honestly trying to help them understand. As long as we're seeking to understand, it goes really well. If you're coming in with an agenda to argue or debate, it's not going to go well. If you don't have healthy conflict resolution, you're kind of sunk. If we're called to bear each other's burdens, we need to know what those burdens are, and the burden of race in our society is a heavy one.

One of the things we encourage everyone to go through within the first year of being part of our church is an Emotionally Healthy Spirituality small group. It helps people understand family of origin issues, background triggers, and more. This provides a really good context for self-understanding and self-monitoring. We've found that this helps a lot when it comes to racial sensitivity, culture issues, and how all of this affects you personally.

There are a couple of things we have had to be mindful of. For many white people, when they hear the term "multiethnic" they immediately think them or those people. We want to help them understand that they are part of ethnic groups too. The tragedy is that most of us who are white don't even know our own stories because we've just kind of gotten washed up into the dominant culture.

For people who are not white, we have to make sure that they're not put into a position where they're now tasked with educating the white people. It's not about that. It's about us coming to common understanding and seeking to understand one another. So we have to help them understand that they're not being asked to take on the business of exposing their experiences for the sake of privileged people. There's real pain and hurt and wounds around all of this, so when you're inviting people into discussions about this, you have to make sure you're creating a safe environment where people aren't being reinjured and re-wounded in the places where they're already carrying a lot of baggage and a lot of wounds.

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