America is one of the fastest-growing mission fields in the world, the most recent issue of Unfinished magazine says, but if Christians are not careful they will miss opportunities to reach their "least reached neighbors."
The fall edition of the magazine, which is published by The Mission Society, focuses on the increasing diversity throughout the U.S. and how Christians can engage in cross-cultural ministry without leaving the city they live in. The diversity that can be found in cities and university campuses, in particular, provides both opportunities and challenges for ministries that hope to do mission work here at home.
"Acts 1:8 calls us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth while not neglecting 'Jerusalem,' our mission field at home," Dick McClain, president and CEO of The Mission Society, said in a statement. "Whether you live in Louisville, Kentucky, or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it is incumbent on Christian disciples to identify and then reach out to those who have had the least exposure to the gospel. The least-reached people may very well be your neighbor."
Stan Self, senior director of church ministry for The Mission Society, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that one of the primary reasons the U.S. is becoming an increasingly important mission field is because of the numbers of immigrants entering the country every year. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau released earlier this year, there were nearly 40 million foreign-born people – or 13 percent of the total population – living in the United States as of July 2010.
These statistics suggest that understanding cross-cultural ministry is vitally important in contemporary America, but how does that affect the way churches reach out to these people?
"The first thing I think it ought to do is to just help us realize that we need to be a whole lot more observant of the people that live around us," said Self.
Self contributed to the current issue of Unfinished magazine with an article titled "Blind Spots," which focused on identifying and reaching out to the people Christians often overlook in their own communities
Churches often get caught in a routine, he says, and they forget to observe their communities in search of those in need. Cross-cultural ministers should also make an effort to build relationships with others if they hope to see people from other cultures come to faith in Jesus Christ.
"The interesting thing is they're interested in basically the same things you are," said Self. "They want safe neighborhoods, they want good schools for their kids to go to and they want to build friendships. And so it's not a daunting thing to go about building relationships with people, but it's only when you do that that you can begin to see those opportunities for bringing the Gospel into the conversation."
He also says churches should adopt a "go to" approach to reaching people and spend less time on a "come to" approach. Many churches use attractional methods of drawing people to their services – by hosting events and advertising through signs and billboards – but churches should aspire to be more outgoing and approach the members of their community first.
It seems the release of Unfinished magazine's fall issue couldn't have been released at a better time. On Tuesday, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed a new study which shows that one-in-five of American adults have no religious affiliation – the highest percentage ever recorded by polls conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Other articles found in the current issue of the magazine include advice on reaching out to international students, an interview with a youth pastor who discusses culture's impact on teenagers today, advice on how Christians can handle economic uncertainty and an article written by McClain on the purpose of the issue.
"I've visited several churches that posted signs at the exits of their parking lots announcing, 'You are now entering the mission field,'" writes McClain. "It's true. May God help the American church to discover and embrace the least reached in our own backyard."