Survey assesses scope of outreach in N. America
Baptist Press
March 31, 2010

Survey assesses scope of outreach in N. America

Survey assesses scope of outreach in N. America
Baptist Press
March 31, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A North

American Mission Board/LifeWay Research study found that while ministries

across North America are reaching out to a significant portion of

first-generation immigrants, much work remains to be done. Still, while

evangelistic growth among these groups has been slow, the potential is

promising, with immigrants from most countries considered somewhat receptive to

the gospel.

NAMB contracted with LifeWay Research to conduct the online/telephone study

which was completed between July 21 and Sept. 2, 2009. The scope of the project

included a qualitative phase and quantitative surveys available in 20 languages

to missionaries, pastors and laypeople who work among first-generation

immigrants in North America. National and regional organizations and professors

who teach immigrant missions and evangelism also were surveyed.

The statistics

in this article focus only on responses from individuals in 74 national and

regional organizations representing a variety of evangelical denominations and

groups that participated.

First-generation immigrants were defined in the study as residents of North

America who were born in a foreign country.

“For us to be faithful in assisting our churches in the tasks of evangelism and

church planting, we need an awareness of what work is underway so believers,

churches, denominations and ministries can support and participate in these

missions efforts here in North America,” said Richard Harris, interim president

of NAMB. “We will not make significant progress in fulfilling the Great Commission

in North America until we take seriously the mandate to reach more of the

millions of immigrants and hundreds of people groups in our communities with

the gospel.”

The 74 Christian organizations included in the study have 3,757 missionaries

and church planters working among first-generation immigrants. While a few of

the largest organizations have many missionaries, the median number of

missionaries among these organizations is 12.

North American Mission Board photo

Jalil Dawood, a North American Mission Board missionary serving Dallas Arabic Christian Church, is among church planters reaching out to immigrants who have relocated to North America. Here, Dawood’s gestures of kindness to a woman named Hiyam reflects the heart of the Southern Baptist congregation he serves to optimize their witness for Christ.

Participating organizations report having the highest number of first-generation

immigrant believers from Mexico. The next highest numbers of believers involved

in their churches or ministries, in descending order, are immigrants from Haiti

(a distant second), South Korea, Cuba and China.

Survey respondents were asked to indicate, by country, changes in the number of

immigrants involved in the organizations over the last year. On a scale of one

to five, with five representing a “10 percent or more” increase in

participation and one being a “10 percent or more” decrease in participation,

the mean response was 3.4 or just more than “about the same.” Only Myanmar’s,

Vietnam’s and Cambodia’s immigrants average at or above “more total

participants than one year ago.”

“The opportunity here is great,” said Ken Weathersby, NAMB’s vice president of

church planting. “Many immigrants come from places where preaching the Gospel

is illegal, but they can hear the gospel in their new home. In turn, those

believers can impact their families here in North America and in their country

of origin, more easily crossing language and cultural barriers (than non-native


Significantly, despite the slow growth of immigrants participating in these

organizations, respondents said immigrants from most countries, overall, are

considered somewhat receptive to the gospel.

Receptivity was defined as the speed and ease with which someone who hears the gospel

responds with belief and repentance. Again using the five-point scale, with

five being “very receptive” and one being “not receptive at all,” the mean

response was 3.4.

Immigrants from Ecuador, Guatemala, Liberia, Honduras, El Salvador, Myanmar,

Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya and Mexico appear most receptive with an average

response of 4.0 or higher.

Surveyed organizations currently minister to immigrants from 151 of a possible

202 countries considered in the analysis. This number includes countries such

as the Vatican and Taiwan, which are not always counted among the world’s

official countries.

That means that 25 percent of possible countries of origin, including nations

of Europe, Africa and the South Pacific, have no organizations ministering to

their immigrants in North America. Another 26 percent have only one or two

national or regional organizations ministering to them.

“Things are changing in the U.S. and Canada,” said Ed Stetzer, director of

LifeWay Research. “By 2050, there will be no majority race or ethnicity in the

United States. Already in Toronto, the majority of residents were born outside

of Canada. This is a wake-up call to the church in North America. The nations

of the world are living right here, yet many are not hearing the gospel in an

intentional, organized way. We can do better.”

Among countries with at least one organization ministering to immigrants in

North America, many have “very few” missionaries or church planters. Countries

with five or fewer missionaries include Germany, France, Italy and Poland as

well as Middle Eastern, African and Eurasian countries, among others.

“Generations of believers around the world prayed that the former Soviet bloc

nations would be free to hear the gospel,” Stetzer noted. “Now, as they move

into our neighborhoods, few are proactively welcoming them with the Good News.

We can and must do better.”

The survey found that first-generation immigrants from 24 countries have more

than 50 missionaries or church planters in North America. Immigrant groups from

Mexico, South Korea, Guatemala, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and

Venezuela each had more than 100 missionaries and/or church planters serving

them, with Mexico leading all groups at 1,715.

Twenty-four “heart” (first) languages were tested in the survey.

Spanish-speaking heart-language immigrants had the highest number of

organizations serving them (55), followed by Chinese (30), Korean (25), Arabic

(22) and Japanese (21).

“Believers in North America need to stop waiting for a ‘melting pot’ to impact

immigrants and instead make personal efforts to engage the first-generation

immigrants around them with the gospel,” Stetzer said.

Van Kicklighter, one of the leaders of NAMB’s church planting initiatives,

noted: “These are people you don’t have to go overseas to reach. They are in

our cities, communities and counties.”

Kicklighter, addressing a meeting of 320 church planting missionaries from 49

U.S. states, Canada and Puerto Rico, Feb. 24-27 in Atlanta, said there is a

direct correlation between immigrants’ receptivity to the gospel and whether

missionaries are working directly with that group, according to the research.

The most effective missionaries are those that speak their heart language,

understand their cultures or have spent time in their countries.

The research also showed that ministry to first-generation immigrants is most

effective when ministries cooperate with each other or work across

denominations, Kicklighter said. It also indicated that in working with

immigrants, basic Bible studies are better than in-depth Bible studies.

Kicklighter said NAMB will use the study to help increase awareness among

Southern Baptists of the growing number and diversity of immigrant groups

locating in significant numbers all across North America.

“Most Southern Baptists are only vaguely aware that many of these groups are

coming to North America. We are working on a strategy that will call Southern

Baptists to be intentional and focus on intercessory prayer for these people

groups. We believe the first step in any plan is prayer.

“Knowing who these groups are and where they are located will assist NAMB in

creating strategic plans for mobilizing missionaries and church planters, who

will engage in gospel sowing and church planting among these first-gen

immigrants,” Kicklighter said.

LifeWay Research called and e-mailed denominations and parachurch ministries to

invite them to participate in the online survey conducted between July 21 and

Sept. 2, 2009. Additional versions of the survey also were administered among

missionaries, professors, pastors and laypeople.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Adapted from reports by LifeWay Christian Resources and

the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.)