When Bob Lowman moved to Charlotte about 15 years ago to pastor a church, he was not all that familiar with unreached, unengaged people groups, or what it would take to reach these people groups with the gospel.
Now, after seven years as director of missions for Metrolina Association in Charlotte, he finds himself immersed in a city that is home to at least five unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPG) and a growing ethnic population. These UUPGs are groups that are less than 2 percent evangelical and have no church planting strategy among them.
“The first several years I noticed a significant number of church plants coming from international congregations and different people groups and communities. The more that happened, the more it got my attention,” Lowman said. “A growing awareness seemed to burst one day. The nations are in our neighborhood, and I thought, what are we going to do about it?”
In the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system, 165 different native languages are spoken. From 2000 to 2011, the non-Anglo population increased 187 percent, Hispanic/Latinos by 147 percent and Asians by 93 percent. On the eastern side of the city, one apartment complex alone is home to 12 different languages, such as Nepali, Arabic, Urdu, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Somali.
More and more refugees from Nepal and Burma are also moving into the area.
To reach this growing diverse population, Lowman and Metrolina Association are participants in a pilot project to help identify different people groups living in North Carolina’s metropolitan areas.
The North Carolina Metropolitan Areas People Identification Project (NCMapID) is a partnership among the Metrolina Association, Piedmont Association in Greensboro and Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
“With nearly 75 percent of North Carolinians living in eight metropolitan areas of our state, and with more than 77 percent of our non-Anglo population living in these same eight areas, we must become more intentional in our efforts to penetrate lostness in our state’s cities,” said Michael Sowers, BSC senior consultant for Great Commission Partnerships.
NCMapID will focus on the Charlotte and Greensboro areas, with the goal to create an effective model that can be used in the six other North Carolina metropolitan areas to identify unreached people groups.
“Our state’s growing diversity provides churches an opportunity to reach the world with the gospel without leaving North Carolina,” Sowers said. “Yet, in order for the church to engage the people of the world whom God is bringing to North Carolina, we must first begin to identify these people groups.”
Before the project officially launched earlier this year, Lowman spent time last year working with Jeff Sundell, a former International Mission Board missionary in South Asia for 10 years. Sundell has already identified five UUPGs in Charlotte.
“We can now say that all five of these groups are being engaged with the gospel right here in Charlotte,” Lowman said. When North Carolina Baptist volunteers come to Charlotte and Greensboro they will work in teams and go out into different areas of the city. They will talk with people and try to learn who they are and where they are from. Information collected by volunteers will be entered into a database, and when the project is completed, the people group data will be available to local churches.
Larry Doyle, director of missions for Piedmont Association, said he is honored to join this pilot project.
“This is one of the most important things we can do in the next several years; this is big for us,” he said. “We don’t see unreached people unless we are looking. This project will help us see them, and maybe really see them for the first time.”
Doyle said the process of surveying and collecting information will be just as valuable as the end result. His prayer is that as churches are involved and meet people in the community, they will begin to build relationships.
“It goes back to the Great Commission – are we making disciples? And will this help us make better disciples?”
Doyle came to the Greensboro area in 1993 to pastor a Spanish-speaking church – the only one in the area – after serving as a missionary in Ecuador. “Now I can’t even tell you how many Hispanics are here,” he said. “We have people living here from Nigeria, Liberia, the Congo and Pakistan. We must help get the church comfortable with being missionaries in their own communities.”
NCMapID is also an opportunity for college students to learn to think like missionaries.
“Even students who do not have much time, or money, can participate in this and take ownership of it,” said Evan Blackerby, campus minister at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Blackerby and his wife have prayed for some time about serving overseas. “I have this passion born within me to see different people groups come to know the Lord. Our minds were set to leave Greensboro.”
Blackerby has learned that while God does call believers to serve overseas, that does not negate God’s command for him to reach people groups living in his city and neighborhood. He said that although international missions may seem more “glamorous,” he knows God has him serving in Greensboro to reach those around him.
Doyle is praying that NCMapID will help churches understand and embrace their calling and responsibility to reach the nations right where they are.
“The Great Commission means making disciples of every ethnic people as you meet them, wherever you go,” he said. “The ethnics are here, and it’s our job to reach them.”
To learn how your church can participate in NCMapID, or for more information about the project, email [email protected] or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5654.