JEFFERSON CITY – Be the missionary. Embrace the nations.
This is the call of the International Mission Board (IMB) to Missouri Baptists. It is a call sounded again by Alan Duncan, IMB missional church strategist, in a meeting with 10 Missouri pastors, laymen and directors of missions Aug. 17 at the Baptist Building here.
“There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, and half of those – 6,500 – are unreached [less than two percent evangelical Christian],” Duncan said. “There are 3,800 people groups that are not only unreached, they’re unengaged [no contact with any evangelical source]. We only have 5,000 IMB missionaries. If we’re going to reach those people groups, we need you to be the missionary..”
“Embracing” doesn’t mean going it alone. Duncan said IMB will work with churches to help identify the people groups (www.call2embrace.org and www.seetheunreached.com are places to start), as well as train and equip volunteers. It is possible to partner with other churches already on the field within a people group. It is a big commitment: it will mean a three- to five-year commitment, with four to five trips to a year. The idea also has churches conforming themselves on the field to IMB’s standards and strategies (while still respecting the autonomy of the local church.)
IMB personnel are also offering four Embrace Equipping Conferences across the U.S.: Sept. 7 at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.; Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist Church, Cedar Hill, Texas; Nov. 4, at Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colo.; and March 24 at Immanuel Baptist Church, Highland, Calif.
The idea of churches embracing people groups is a philosophy that Missouri Baptists are already embracing in eight countries in West Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cape Verde). That area includes 1,612 people groups that IMB wants to reach. Only 35 are in direct contact with IMB personnel, which creates an opportunity for an “Engaging Church” like First Baptist, Arnold, and four other Missouri churches to “be the missionary” to a tribe of about 19,000 people in rural Senegal. At present, IMB has missionaries in only three of those eight nations.
Duncan wants that philosophy to spread to more U.S. churches.
“It might be just 25 uncontacted people in the middle of the Amazon rainforest,” Duncan said, “a 50,000-member people group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or it might be trying to reach some of the millions of Han Chinese. There’s not one size of people group and we don’t need just one size of church to embrace the people groups. God will lead you to commit to the right group in His time.”
Duncan said that out of approximately 45,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, roughly 22,000 give to international missions through the Cooperative Program or the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. About 1,000 are already partnering with IMB, but only 120 are “being the missionary” and “embracing a people group.”
“Some of them are great success stories from smaller churches,” he said. “It would even work for several churches in smaller associations to form an alliance and say we’re going to take on this responsibility. That’s a doable plan that we want to help facilitate. What we don’t want is for a state convention to adopt a people group. That’s not the way to engage 3,800 unreached and unengaged people groups.”
BRIAN KOONCE/staff writer