SBC Life Articles

Churches on Mission

For years, Southern Baptists assumed that only career missionaries could take the Gospel to unreached people groups in remote parts of the earth.

But today an increasing number of small and mid-sized congregations are dispelling that myth by adopting unreached people groups. These congregations are discovering that one church with willingness and passion can spawn a church planting movement amid spiritual darkness thousands of miles away.

"It's not the size of the church, it's the size of the heart that makes a difference. And I think that's something many of our churches have lost," said Dave Clippard, managing director of the church services group at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.

Approximately 3,500 people groups worldwide with populations of more than 100,000 each are not being engaged with the Gospel, Clippard said. He added that six hundred of those people groups have absolutely no contact with Christianity, including knowledge of the name, Jesus. Many people groups smaller than 100,000 also have no Gospel witness.

Because IMB missionaries do not have resources to share the Gospel with all of these people groups, they need local churches to help by adopting people groups and taking responsibility for evangelism and church planting among their groups.

That's exactly what Central Baptist Church in Meridian, Mississippi, did. In October 2006 a team from the church took a mission trip to Upala, Costa Rica, where they saw more than twenty people commit their lives to Jesus. While Central rejoiced in those conversions, they felt convicted to do more.

"We were not commanded to 'go and win' but to 'go and make disciples,'" Pastor Greg Massey said. "It is all but impossible to make disciples in one visit. The church longed for a long-term relationship where they could invest their lives in the lives of others."

Massey began to investigate how his congregation could have a more lasting impact overseas and discovered the need for churches to adopt unreached people groups. Because Central has only 150 members, it did not have the resources to adopt a people group on its own. So Massey contacted the director of missions for his local association, the Lauderdale Baptist Association, about the association adopting a people group.

After meetings with IMB leaders and a trip to Mexico for training, the association adopted the entire province of Santiago Rodriguez in the Dominican Republic. The area has sixty thousand people but less than a 2 percent evangelical witness.

"We are the only missionary to this people group," Massey said. "No IMB personnel will be assigned to the group as long as we are working there."

Beginning in February 2008, the association took regular trips to the Dominican Republic. On one trip, the mission team visited with a group of men congregated around a small store discussing the drought in their area and its devastating effects on crops.

"Our Dominican home missionary partner, Jose, talked with the men about a powerful God who controlled the rain," Massey said. "He told the story of creation and then went into the story of the fall of man. He explained how the sin of Adam affected the entire world and does to this day."

When the men told the mission team that they would like to pray for rain, two team members prayed.

"Before the team loaded the bus to go back down the mountain, it began to gently rain," Massey said.

When another team from the association returned to the Dominican Republic six weeks later, they visited again with the same men. One local told another, "You need to listen to this man, for when he prays, it rains."

During the past year, forty people in Santiago Rodriguez have committed their lives to Christ and three have been baptized. In addition, two unbelievers are hosting Bible studies in their homes.

But Central America isn't the only place reaping benefits from Central's efforts, Massey said. Since the partnership began, the church has made reproducing disciples at home and demonstrated a strong commitment to missions giving through the Cooperative Program. Central gives 12 percent of its undesignated receipts to CP and has no plans to divert funds from CP to its own missions projects.

"I have nothing but praise for the International Mission Board and the Cooperative Program," Massey said.

Another church to experience the blessing of adopting a people group is the Beulah Baptist Church in Hopkins, South Carolina. Two years ago Beulah, which averaged approximately two hundred in worship each week, adopted the Bambara people of West Africa. Despite Beulah's modest size, the congregation has spent $250,000 on missions to the Bambara, taken trips to Africa every six weeks, and seen dozens of Africans profess faith in Christ-all while increasing CP giving.

"There's no logical human explanation of how we can do this," Pastor Brad Bessent said. "God just keeps on being faithful."

Beulah has focused its work on one village, Bessent said. But new believers in that village have become missionaries themselves, and eight or nine additional villages now have believers in Christ as a result of Beulah's work. One Bambara man, inspired by the Apostle Paul, changed his name to Paul and began traveling from village to village sharing Jesus.

Like Central Baptist in Mississippi, the South Carolina congregation has progressed at home because of its efforts overseas.

"The same principles that apply on the mission field work here," Bessent said. "We have to understand the community and the context where our church is located. There is a culture. If we want to reach the people of this community, we've got to find the bridges that connect us into that culture."

Clippard, of the IMB, suggested several steps for churches considering adopting a people group.

• Pray for God's guidance.

• Discover your church's natural affinity. In other words, investigate whether the church has relationships with missionaries in a certain region of the world or is surrounded by immigrants from a specific people group.

• Work to identify a mission leader in your church.

• Contact the IMB for help investigating opportunities to adopt a people group.

• Celebrate God's victories when they come.

"We're here to help facilitate churches in fulfilling the Great Commission," Clippard said of the IMB. "… There is just no physical way, financial way that we'll ever support enough missionaries to reach all these people. So we've got to have partners out there that take on some of these places we just can't get to."



For more information, go to www.imb.org, click on "Lead your church" from the menu options at the top, then click on "Adopt a people group" from the menu options on the left.