I have written elsewhere on the growing diversity of both the United States and Arkansas. In the next 20 years there will not be a majority ethnic group in our country. So, we could argue that since our country is increasingly multi-cultural all ministry in our country will become increasingly cross-cultural as well. Therefore, thinking and acting like a missionary – one who crosses cultural barriers for the sake of the Gospel – is not simply a skillset for those leaving our country but one that is necessary for all believers.
When we say there are 70+ Unreached People Groups represented in Arkansas, we are speaking of those groups who share a common language, culture, history, etc. yet have an evangelical Christian population of less than 2%. Some of these have strong first-generation representation, meaning they are foreign born. Many have strong second and third generation representation. Though there has been some assimilation to the broader American culture there are still strong enough ties to the culture and worldview of their parents that ministering to them is cross-cultural — even if communicated in English.
Globally, these groups remain “unreached” because their churches have not yet had the capacity to sustain growth among their own people without the help of foreign missionaries. This is often due to persecution, lack of resources, or even physical access. In God’s providence (Acts 17:26-27), when these groups make a home in the United States they find greater freedom, more resources, and easier access. The challenge is to keep in perspective that these privileges are not only to be enjoyed but serve the greater purpose of extending the Kingdom to those who remain unreached.
By God’s grace we are seeing this happen within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)!
Thanks to the cooperative ministries of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Woman s Missionary Union, seminaries, state conventions, and most importantly dozens of ethnic fellowships and associations around the country, groups that were once considered unreached have access to the resources and opportunities of the SBC that enable them to move from recipients of the Gospel to partners and practitioners of the Great Commission. We not only see churches planted among ethnic minorities and unreached people groups in the United States, but we also see these churches taking their place and playing their role in sending missionaries around the globe to the next (perhaps last) frontier of the Great Commission.
The role of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) Church Planting Team in all of this is to assist churches in discovering, developing, and deploying church planters who engage their city, make disciples, and plant the church. But where do these church planters come from? In some instances, God opens the door for qualified leaders from these language groups to come to our country. Maybe they ministered in their home country and are now being called to plant in ours. The ABSC helps churches get them the necessary training, assessment, resources, coaching, and care for the task.
Unfortunately, most of the Unreached People Groups represented in Arkansas still do not have enough mature believers or a healthy enough context from which to discover a potential planter. In these instances, there is still a need for someone to minister cross-culturally to get the work started. From where do we discover, develop, and deploy these planters? Perhaps in the “ideal” scenario God would send us a foreign missionary with the relative experience to help get things going. That is certainly possible and sometimes what happens. But the most common source of sent ones remains the local church. If God has brought unreached immigrants, refugees, or international students to your neighborhood then He is likely calling out someone in your church to reach them. They will need to think and act like a cross-cultural missionary. As your church equips the members with missions education, disciple-making, and leadership development within your local context, the ABSC Church Planting Team is ready to help you discover, develop, and deploy cross-cultural workers who engage the unreached, make disciples, and plant the church among the nations next door.
Make disciples who make disciples. Teach them about the mission of God and how we all have a role to play. Call out the called. Partner to send and sustain them among the unreached, even next door.