North America + People Groups = Mission Opportunity
The news is out! According to the most recent census information released on August 15, the face of the United States is changing. CNN's headline for the U.S. proclaimed, "Explosion of diversity sweeps U.S." The New York Times, referring to New York City said, "Immigrant Numbers Swell New York." The Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote of a local county, "Immigrants Transform Gwinnett." These recent stories reflect the missional opportunities that exist among this ever-expanding population within our country.
After planting churches among immigrants, and studying their religious patterns extensively, I have come to one conclusion: God's providing the North American church with an amazing opportunity to reach the nations of the world, right here and right now. There are 7 different languages spoken in my suburban Atlanta neighborhood of 42 homes.
Within a few minutes drive, there are nearly 30 people groups in Mexican, Chinese, and Arab communities (see www.peoplegroups.info). It is becoming increasingly difficult to go anywhere in the United States without hearing an unknown language, seeing an unfamiliar cultural dress, or driving by a non-Christian religious center. With the national attention currently focused on the immigration issue, an important question comes to mind. How are Southern Baptists doing in reaching North American immigrants for Christ? We have been trying to answer this question at the Center for Missional Research at the North American Mission Board. Our full study is available at www.namb.net/research.
First, the good news: The baptism rate for many ethno-linguistic people groups is relatively high. In 2005, Anglo and African-American churches averaged 3.07 baptisms for every 100 resident members. The chart above illustrates that the majority of Southern Baptist language churches baptized proportionally more people than that. God is at work!
The not-so-good news is that many people groups in the United States have only a small representation of Southern Baptists, and many come to the U.S. from non-Christian backgrounds. However, this trend is not just a Southern Baptist concern, but a concern for all North American churches. The fields are white unto harvest among North American people groups but there is still very much harvesting to be done.
What is the appropriate biblical response to this growing immigrant population?
A biblical model found in the Old Testament speaks of aliens, sojourners, and strangers in the land. It shows that our God-given responsibility is the proclamation of the gospel (Deut. 31:12; Matt. 28:18-20) including them in our daily lives through hospitality (Lev. 19:33-34; Matt. 25), being fair and just in our dealings with them (Lev. 24:22), and providing compassionate ministries for their daily needs (Lev. 19:9-10). God's word demands a comprehensive approach in sharing Christ with others. In obedience, we can do nothing less. God is bringing the world to us. The responsibility for aliens, sojourners, and strangers is not an outdated concept, but rather our mission and mandate.
My recent investigation of North American people groups convicted me to invite my Hindu neighbors to dinner. In developing a relationship with them, I hope to find ways my family can minister to their family. Perhaps God will use this simple invitation to bring new Indian brothers and sisters into His family as our relationship with them develops. It could even be the beginning of a movement of God among their people overseas. When God is in it, nothing is impossible!
My question for you is, "What are you doing to reach out to the nations within our nation?" You likely know someone who speaks a language other than English in their home. Jesus instructed us to, "Go and make disciples of all nations," so let's get out there! As Rajendra Pillai says in his book, Reaching the World in our Own Backyard:
People from other religions and cultures now live, study, and work among us. They are America's most overlooked mission field. We cannot make excuses anymore. The eternal destinies of millions are at stake. Remember: If you are not fishing, you are not following!
Philip Connor is the Research Missiologist at the Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board, and an expert on religiosity among immigrants to North America.
American Community Survey 2005, U.S. Census Bureau.
Annual Church Profile, 2005, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN
Compiled by Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, GA