The United States sends more Christian missionaries abroad than any other country. According to Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, in 2010 the United States sent out 127,000 of the world’s estimated 400,000 missionaries. To put this in perspective, second place Brazil sent out 34,000.
The irony is that now, America needs them sent here.
The American Religious Identification survey (IRIS), released in 2009, marked an alarming increase in “nones” – nearly doubling from 8 percent to 15 percent. This made those who claim no religion at all the third largest defined constituency in the United States, eclipsed only by Catholics and Baptists. Further, “nones” were the only religious bloc to rise in percentage in every state, thus constituting the only true national trend.
IRIS corresponds with ARDA (The Association of Religious Archives). For instance, ARDA reports that 2.7 Million in Missouri are “unclaimed” out of the 5.8 Million in our state. This means that almost one of every two in our state are not members of Baptist, or Methodist, or Catholic, or Muslim, or Hindu, or, any known church/denomination/religious group. They are “unclaimed.” Go to www.thearda.com and put in your zip code and see what the situation is. For instance, Jackson County (Kansas City) is listed with 654,880 residents and 319,384 unclaimed!
It is difficult to think of America as a mission field, having been the exporter of faith for so many generations, but that is precisely what it has become.
So, what kind of missionaries does America need? Answer: The same kind we’ve been sending out for two hundred years, and they need to do precisely what any good missionary would do.
1. Learn the language
The first task for any missionary is to learn the language of the people he/she are trying to reach; then, use it. The language barrier is the most elemental and primary obstacle to overcome. To learn the language means to educate yourself on how to talk in a way that people can understand and relate to, and in the end, respond to. Wherever you live or visit in America has a very unique and specific religious language and it isn’t the same everywhere. For instance, when I was growing up in Arkansas, we would use terms like, “How many walked the sawdust trail in last week’s revival?” When our family moved north, I began to discover such terms were a “foreign language” to Midwesterners! People would look at me like a calf looking at a new gate (oops, there I go again!). America has tribal “languages” just as much as Africa does!
2. Become a student of the culture
The second price a missionary must pay if he/she is going to be effective in their outreach efforts is to learn the culture of the new field in which they minister. Culture is the combined effect of the interacting values, thoughts, attitudes and actions that define the life of the community. Though invisible to the untrained eye, culture’s power is undeniable and it gives color and flavor to everything the community is and does. When I first moved to St.Louis as a pastor, I thought the tried-and-true Baptist tracts from the Home Mission Board would work as well as in the rural settings where I had ministered. WRONG! Would you believe a banker referred to Baptists as a “cult”!? I began to use gospel tracts with Billy Graham’s name on them. Guess what – they were accepted! (I just hoped nobody would tell them he was a Baptist!!).
3. Do an environmental study
Get to know about the community in which you live and minister. Do different radius markings such as the area five and ten miles around you. Learn the age breakdowns, the ethnic mix and special needs. Prayer walk/drive your community, asking God to show you the makeup and where you need to begin in meeting needs and reaching your community.
4. Practice leadership principle number one
Simply stated it is this: People do what people see! You must model over and over again what you envision God wants to do in your community. Saying it, preaching it, teaching it, is not enough. People don’t get it until they see it!
Imagine more than 100,000 Missouri Baptists (that’s how many are in our Sunday Schools each weekend) engaged in these four simple tasks for the sake of reaching our state for Christ! Imagine that number starting their day with this prayer: “Lord, use me as your missionary today.”