7 ways to reach unreached peoples at home

by J.D. Payne, The Church at Brook Hills

Thursday, October 12, 2017

While the greatest needs for the gospel and church planting exist outside of North America, something is missionally malignant if we are willing to make great sacrifices for the peoples “over there,” but unwilling to reach the peoples “over here.”

People often ask me, “Why are churches willing to go to the unreached people groups in other countries, but unwilling to reach those same people groups in North America?”

One reason for this reality is that churches lack a kingdom vision. Following are seven action items to help your church catch the vision of lostness and act upon that vision.

Lead with the Word
Pastors must constantly point people to the Scriptures for why we do what we do as a church. This includes helping them see and own the vision for reaching the unreached peoples of North America. If we teach our people what the Bible says about the mission of God, our people will soon understand that missions is more about crossing cultures than crossing national boundaries (Acts 8:5; 10:34; 11:20). 

Pray, pray, pray
Vision casting, like all of ministry, demands prayer. Prayer is needed for the Spirit’s leadership, clear communication, and for the church’s eyes to be opened to the present need. Prayer is needed because of spiritual opposition. Prayer is needed so the church may hear the call, understand the need and be moved to action. 

Paint a picture of global lostness
The United States is home to the third-largest number of unreached people groups in the world, and Canada is close behind in fourth place. Most people do not know this reality. Many of the world’s unreached people groups have moved to the West in general and to North America in particular. Global lostness is not just in “that” country, but also in “this” country. 

Acknowledge fears and deflate myths
I heard a church member, with tears in his eyes, confess, “I want to reach out to a Muslim girl at the convenience store. But what if she is married to a terrorist? I am so afraid.” We need to acknowledge the present fears, stereotypes and biases around us. We need to acknowledge the truths and falsehoods that hold people back from faithfulness to Jesus (Philippians 4:6). We also need to help our people know how to respond as citizens of the kingdom first and as citizens of the U.S. or Canada second. 

Provide a way forward
As leaders, we must provide a strategy with action steps. What will your church do first, second and so on to understand who lives around you and engage with them? How can your people get involved? Don’t just tell them to do it, provide a pathway to the field for them. Zeal without knowledge is not a good thing. The one who makes haste misses the way (Proverbs 19:2). 

Set the example
People imitate what they know, and they know what is modeled before them. In his book The Pastor and Modern Missions: A Plea for Leadership in World Evangelization, John Mott wrote in 1904 words that are still true today: “The secret of enabling the home church to press her advantage in the non-Christian world is one of leadership. The people do not go beyond their leaders in knowledge and zeal, nor surpass them in consecration and sacrifice.” If disciple-making and church planting among unreached people groups does not burn within pastors, then that conviction is highly unlikely to grip our churches. What we prioritize is what they will prioritize and support. 

Share stories and celebrate
When the first apostolic teams returned from their work, they shared with the church (Acts 14:27). Stories tell of God’s goodness. They encourage, inspire, motivate and challenge. Share what is working well and not so well. Learn from the stories and make adjustments as you move forward. In all things give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and take time to celebrate the advancement of the kingdom. 

Editor’s note: J.D. Payne serves as the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has authored and/or edited 13 books on missions and evangelism, including Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission. Payne will be a keynote speaker at the Reaching the Nations in North America conference on Oct. 27-28 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.