RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–How far do you have to travel to find some of the most spiritually lost people groups in the world?
An hour by subway, tops. Maybe just a five-minute walk.
If you visit or live in New York or Houston, you know firsthand how multicultural U.S. urban centers have become. The New York City metro area is home to about 22 million people. They speak as many as 800 languages. Two-thirds are first-generation immigrants or their children.
Houston, with more than 6 million people, has become a major immigration portal and one of the most ethnically varied cities in North America. One in four Houston residents was born overseas. Some 350 different ethnic people groups have been identified there. More than 150 languages are spoken by students in the Houston public schools.
North American cities such as New York and Houston aren’t just ethnically diverse, however. Like cities around the globe, they are increasingly unreached by the Gospel.
According to current mission research, 584 unengaged, unreached people groups can be found in North America — many of them in urban areas. In other words, these groups haven’t heard the Christian message presented in ways they can understand it and respond to it, and no evangelical group currently has a viable plan to reach them.
Now there’s a way to join others — including some of the top urban mission strategists in the world — to help change that reality.
“EthnéCITY: Reaching the Unreached in the Urban Center,” is a gathering designed for pastors, missionaries, church planters, missions leaders, students and others interested in exploring what it will take to engage unreached people groups in urban centers — both in North America and around the world. The conference will take place in three major cities over the coming months: Oct. 20-22 in New York; Nov. 17-19 in Houston; and May 3-5 in Vancouver, Canada.
EthnéCITY is among the first fruits of a new partnership between the International Mission Board and North American Mission Boards, reflecting the reality that national borders no longer define the task of missions in a globalized world.
More than half of humanity now lives in cities. By the year 2050, that count is projected to top 70 percent. Cities present a distinct set of challenges for Christians seeking to share the Good News of Jesus and plant churches.
The EthnéCITY conferences will help U.S. church and mission leaders connect with key IMB missionaries and strategists to get to know each other, explore the realities of global urbanization and develop strategies to reach unreached people groups in urban centers of North America and around the world.
“This is just an incredible opportunity to have U.S. city strategists join with our urban missionaries from overseas to ‘cross-pollinate’ and learn from each other,” said Terry Sharp, the International Mission Board’s lead strategist for state and association relations and urban strategies.
“It’s also an opportunity for those churches that are already engaged with an unreached people group to come and learn how to strategize and develop outreach to that people group both overseas and here in the United States,” Sharp continued. “We hope a lot of the churches will realize that many of the people groups they’ve fallen in love with and are hoping to engage may well be right here in the U.S. They can make a connection with others who are trying to reach that same people group.”
EthnéCITY participants will discuss such topics as urban realities that affect evangelism/church planting; urban mapping to understand the demographic challenges of reaching specific areas; how to spark urban church-planting movements; strategies for getting started; casting an urban vision for churches; developing a focused strategy; and how IMB missionaries and U.S. churches/ministry leaders can network and partner to increase effectiveness at home and around the world.
They’ll also hear about what actually works from international and U.S. urban church-planting strategists who will share the tools they are effectively using in their own ministries. Then they’ll personally step into the communities of the cities they’re visiting.
In New York, for example, participants will visit neighborhoods within a one-hour subway ride of the Brooklyn church where conference sessions will be held.
“They will go out to different ethnic enclaves around the city to observe and try to engage people in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan,” Sharp said. “It will be a good exercise, because they’ll feel more comfortable when they go back to their own cities and implement a plan. It’s not going to be an all-out evangelistic thing; the idea is to try to find a people group, open conversations, engage and get comfortable doing that.”
DOVETAIL WITH NAMB
Another plus related to the New York event: It will dovetail with one of the North American Mission Board’s four “Catch the Vision” tours, part of its “Send North America” church-planting strategy. Pastors, mission leaders and church members will meet church planters in four North American cities (including New York), tour neighborhoods and hear their vision for reaching people groups. The Catch the Vision tour in New York is slated for Oct. 18-19 — just before the EthnéCITY conference begins Oct. 20 — making it convenient for people to participate in both.
“Catch the Vision tours are intended to be quick cultural immersions in a specific city where we need established churches to partner with church planters to start new churches,” said Shane Critser, NAMB’s church mobilization team leader. “I’m excited to serve our SBC churches better by partnering with the IMB to host our New York City Catch the Vision right before EthnéCITY, which will help us both be successful in mobilizing and equipping churches to reach our cities through church planting.”
EthnéCITY is one of the first fruits of a new partnership between the International and North American mission boards, and it reflects the reality that national borders no longer define the task of missions in a globalized world.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix in June gave final approval to ministry assignment changes for both mission boards emerging from Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations adopted at the 2010 SBC meeting in Orlando, Fla. One of the assignment changes directs the International Mission Board to “provide specialized, defined and agreed upon assistance to the North American Mission Board in assisting churches to reach unreached and underserved people groups within the United States and Canada.”
“I’ve had conversations for years with U.S. urban strategists who really wanted the opportunity to sit down with our overseas city strategists for dialogue, and we’re finally seeing that take place,” Sharp said. “People across America for a long time have been saying, ‘We just need to come together, share our resources, share best practices, share what we know and pull our best thinkers together. Let’s figure out how we’re going to get the job done of reaching the peoples in our cities.’
“This is an opportunity for us to do that from a global and a North American perspective,” Sharp added, “because in today’s world, it’s not just one or the other.”
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Boarrd global correspondent. To find out more about the “EthnéCITY” conferences or register, visit www.ethnecity.com. To register for “Catch the Vision,” visit www.namb.net/send-cities.