As North Carolina’s population continues to shift toward greater ethnic and cultural diversity, the Peoples Next Door N.C. (PNDNC) strategy to bring the gospel to unreached people groups across the state hasn’t changed.
That is because “we already had the mentality that we’re equipping people to go to these individuals,” said Zac Lyons, senior consultant for Great Commission partnerships of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“The responsibility of crossing the barriers, whether it’s linguistic or cultural, is on the believer, not on the person that’s in the harvest,” Lyons said in an interview with the Biblical Recorder.
Unreached people groups are ethnic or cultural communities with little or no Christian presence, according to the International Mission Board. In seeking to equip churches to discover, engage and disciple unreached people groups, PNDNC takes into consideration expected demographic growth in the generations following immigrant parents and grandparents.
As migration increases worldwide, the U.S. has undergone significant population changes in recent years due to natural factors, such as fertility and mortality rates. Beginning in 2016, there has been an absolute decline in the white, non-Hispanic population for the first time since the census began 1790, according to a report by the Brookings Institution.
In fact, white children born after 2007 are the nation’s first minority white generation. North Carolina is among the top 10 states experiencing the greatest declines in the white population under 10 years old. Since 2016 other populations in the U.S. have increased by 4.7 million due to natural factors.
A recent study by Baylor University revealed the percentage of multiracial congregations in the U.S. has nearly doubled, although those churches still lack as much diversity as their surrounding neighborhoods.
The increase in American cultural and ethnic diversity, coupled with the PNDNC strategy to share the Good News with unchurched communities among immigrant populations, means calls for ethnic unity and cross-cultural evangelism are happening simultaneously in Southern Baptist life.
PNDNC trains individuals to share the gospel across cultural boundaries, even within a single people group.
Lyons described three categories that exist within many immigrant communities: a culturally religious core, a fringe population and the majority population. This pattern does not fit every people group but can be observed in most, Lyons said.
The core segment is the most religiously and culturally non-assimilated, he explained.
“They are mostly likely to have been older when they immigrated, most likely to very highly identify with the context in which they came from … and the cultural pressures that keep them from changing and choosing to follow Jesus.”
Lyons said the fringe population embraces many “American values.”
“A lot of times, they’re existing in both worlds,” he said. “They’re existing in the majority world around them, but they’re also relating back to … their own background. … They’re asking questions that their culture doesn’t typically allow them to ask, because they’re being exposed to more things that they haven’t been before.”
The PNDNC manual identified the majority population within a people group as ranging “from non-English speaking to semi-bilingual and are fairly tied to the cultural and religious norms of their group.
“However, there are some small changes taking place within their worldview.”
Lyons said all three subgroups are often found in one, multigenerational home.
“It makes it incredibly complex in terms of how you would engage them. All that’s required, though, is to train laypeople to become adaptable missionaries. … It’s a missional mindset rather than trying to create a place that’s comfortable for every generation.”
In the process of multiplying disciples, the new believer from any generation then receives the responsibility to cross barriers to take the gospel to the others, Lyons explained, pointing back to Jesus’ model in Luke 10.
“Jesus says to stay with the home that receives you. … If someone receives the messenger and the message of the gospel, and then they’re also receiving the mission themselves, we need to empower them to reach the rest of the community.”
Lyons emphasized the importance of meeting and discipling people groups in their own cultural contexts. The PNDNC manual notes that going to the unreached is about reproducing believers, not “Americanizing” communities.
Since 2016, teams from local congregations have launched disciple-making strategies in 25 of the top 80 unreached people groups in North Carolina – the top 10 of which are in eight population centers.
There are currently 154 known unreached people groups in the state.
For more information visit ncbaptist.org. Visit the PNDNC Facebook page or follow them on Twitter: @pndnc.