A Biblical Missiology for North American People Groups

In recent years, much has been written and said about the global mission field within North America. The recent flood of immigrants, international students, and guest workers has risen to high levels.

  • For instance, Canada, with its supportive immigration policies, is now 18 percent foreign-born. In fact, it is estimated that Canada’s largest city, Toronto, contains over two million foreign-born residents—half of its population.
  • The United States has also experienced substantial migration waves the past few decades. The percentage of foreign-born has risen from 4.7 percent in 1970 to 12.5 percent in 2005. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that half of the United States will be of a different race or ethnicity than non-Hispanic white by 2050.

What can be assessed from these statistics? How have we performed as a denomination in including North American people groups into our ministries and missions strategy? 

Defining people groups in North America 

Since the issuance of the Great Commission, there has been discussion within the church regarding its concrete meaning. In recent years, much discussion has centered around the phrase “all nations” or in the original Greek, “panta ta ethne.”

  • There is common consensus among missiologists and theologians that the commandment to make disciples of all nations does not refer to geopolitical boundaries (McGavaran 1955; Piper 1996; Slack and Meyers 1999;Winter 1984); rather, the general premise is that it refers to ethnic divisions.
  • Subsequently, the term “people groups” has become prevalent. However, with the adoption of the term “people groups,” many have sought to make this an umbrella term for many more population groups than its original intent. Although it cannot be denied that many affinity groups and population segments within heterogeneous societies do exist (e.g., bikers, suburbanites), it is a stretch to say that each of these population groups constitutes an actual “people group” as defined in the original Greek text found in the Great Commission.
  • Most scholars agree that the term “panta ta ethne” refers to an ethno-linguistic division of peoples (McGavaran 1955; Piper 1996; Slack and Meyers 1999;Winter 1984).
  • In terms of mission strategy, the division line that separates a particular population into a defined people group is the presence of significant barriers for understanding or acceptance of the gospel. 

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