Just a few months ago, around Christmas time, pastor Rick
Speas stood before Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and shared with
them a number that, by the time Christmas 2011 rolls around, should be at least
That number, which according to the International Mission
Board (IMB) is now 3,726, represents the number of unengaged, unreached people
groups in the world.
While an unreached people group (UPG) has a negligible
percentage of Christian believers, an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG)
is a people group essentially void of any evangelical witness. That means 41
percent of the world’s population, or 2.8 billion, have no one to tell them
about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Old Town is making plans to adopt one of these unengaged,
unreached people groups. The church would actually consider itself “the
missionary” working to engage this people group with the gospel. Speas said
once Mark Harrison, Old Town’s missions pastor, explained to him about
unengaged, unreached people groups and the need for churches to adopt them,
making sure Old Town got involved was a “no-brainer.”
Unreached people groups
Some of the countries with the most representation of
unreached people groups include Afghanistan, Algeria, India, Iraq, Morocco,
Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.
The IMB describes a people group as one that shares a
“common self-identity.” Language is a primary factor in determining people
groups. Other factors include a common history and customs.
The 10/40 Window, a rectangular area of North Africa, the
Middle East and Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude, is
home to some of the largest unreached people groups. This geographical area is
home to the majority of Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. The top 50 least
evangelized megacities (those with a population greater than one million) are
also in the 10/40 Window.
Harrison said while the church is doing many good things for
missions, they want to invest resources in what is best. “To be most effective
it’s necessary to focus our attention in a particular direction for a
concentrated period of time, so that we will see a deeper and more lasting
effect over time,” Harrison said. “We want to see maximum results.”
One way they will do this is by adopting an unengaged,
unreached people group. “We want to engage this group wherever they live,”
Harrison said. Old Town will engage their people group locally and build
relationships with them. They will seek to minister to members of this people
group who live throughout the state and North America, as well as minister to
them wherever they may live overseas.
Engaging in this missional strategy will help Old Town, as
Harrison said, concentrate their energy toward a specific focus in order to
have more of a “rifle than shot gun” impact; more of a laser than a searchlight
Keeping up with the needs of too many different missionaries
in too many different places can become overwhelming. The church cannot
possibly do ministry in every area of the world where every church member has a
passion to do ministry. “My role is not to be the church travel agent,”
In the long run, Old Town will be more effective, and more
effective at making disciples, by focusing intently on a particular people
group and pouring their efforts into ministry among this group.
Harrison wants the congregation to “develop a heart” for the
people group they adopt. From learning the culture to learning how to pray for
them to engaging locally and internationally, the effort to adopt a people
group will not be limited to church leadership — the entire church body will be
“This will not be a vision of just a select few. We want to
build this focus into the hearts and minds of as many as possible. Twenty years
from now we hope the children in our church will still be working with this people
group,” Harrison said.
Can’t do everything
As a missions pastor Harrison knows the needs are great, and
they are many. “There are a lot of things we could do, but we can’t do
everything,” he said. “You can dabble in all kinds of things; there is a never
ending stream of requests.”
To help filter through requests, Old Town maintains a
criteria that any missions efforts they participate in, whether local,
statewide, national or international, must fit what they call the “Missional
Matrix.” This Matrix helps the church determine whether an activity is
missional. To fit the profile, the activity must be Kingdom-focused,
gospel-centered and church-based.
Kingdom-focused ministry involves God’s people in a hands-on
demonstration of God’s love by meeting physical needs, such as hunger, poverty
or sickness. Gospel-centered ministry intentionally engages people’s spiritual
needs. “The greatest need for every person is to hear the gospel. Missions is
not missions if we don’t share the message of salvation,” Harrison said.
Church-based, Harrison explained, means the goal is to
engage the local church in God’s mission so that the church multiplies. At the
same time, church members are challenged to embrace missions as a lifestyle,
outside what the local church organizes and supports.
“If all we ever do is what the church organizes, we are not
really a missional church. We hope that our church’s mission actions are
catalytic, moving people to a greater involvement in the wider mission of God,”
Harrison said. “We hope people will get involved here, and then get involved in
whatever else God is calling them to do.”
A church engaged
After Harrison and Speas met with the church leadership and
deacons, they shared the idea of adopting an unengaged, unreached people group
with the congregation. Speas said getting the congregation on board with the
vision was never a challenge because the congregation already thinks outwardly,
as Old Town has a long history of leadership dedicated to making missions a
priority in the church.
Old Town is in the education stage in their journey of
adopting a people group. They are making a concerted effort, through Sunday
School classes and other small groups, to pray for unreached people groups and
to pray about the group God would have them adopt. Church members have been
asked to pray for open hearts to recognize people groups already living among
them. Small groups are also studying David Platt’s best-selling book Radical
and thinking more about what God is doing locally and globally and how they can
be more involved.
Harrison and Speas expect to have the people group picked
out sometime this year. The process may also include leadership visiting
certain areas in the world.
“Ultimately, God will bring all this together for us,”
Harrison said. “We are trying to be obedient one step at a time.”
To learn how your church can adopt an unreached people
group, visit www.ncbaptist.org/gcp.
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