David Bosch speaks of mission as “the church-with-others” (Transforming Mission, p. 368), the church in solidarity with the world. In order to clarify the nature of the evangelistic mission enterprise, those to whom the local-global church is sent and whom she receives can be divided into two categories: the unreached and the unchurched.
The unreached are “people groups” who do not have access to the gospel of Jesus Christ because there is not viable, evangelizing culturally indigenous church, with services held in their language, where they live. According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, there are approximately 8,000 unreached people groups worldwide.
An increasing number of our PC(USA) mission workers are sent to groups who have no strong Christian church, both in the former countries of the Soviet Union in Central Europe and Asia, and in the “10/40 window” — between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator — where Eastern and traditional religions are a part of the cultural and political landscape.
Where explicit evangelism is not allowed, mission workers engage in service activities in the areas of education, health and community development. There are also several Native American tribes and many immigrant groups in the United States who have no witness in their language and culture.
The unchurched include a constituency whom Walter Brueggemann describes as “insiders to the faith who have grown careless, weary, jaded and cynical about the faith” (Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism, p. 71), but who also need evangelizing.
In the United States, Canada and Europe, a major thrust of evangelism and service is with the unchurched or nominal Christians. Alan Klaas estimates there are “[more than] 70 million unchurched people living in the U.S.” (In Search of the Unchurched, p. 4).
While one important way to evangelize the unchurched is by warmly welcoming and authentically receiving them when they come as visitors, church members must pro-actively invite them to church and intentionally seek to engage them in significant gospel conversations in daily life settings. Churches must be aware of communication and cultural issues which can prohibit or impair the unchurched from understanding the gospel and participating in the worship service.
Most mission service projects seek to meet the immediate physical, material and economic needs of poor and marginal people, many of whom are unchurched. It is important to treat them with dignity, respect and compassion, and to remember that holistic mission also includes evangelism and justice.
The unconcerned are good Presbyterians who are either comfortable with things as they are or consumed with internal disagreements and do not care about the 8,000 unreached people groups around the world or the 70 million unchurched in the United States. To them I extend an invitation to get “Out of the Box N2 the World” by attending the Worldwide Ministries Division Frontier 2000 Mission Conference in San Diego next Sept. 15-17.
See you there!
SHERRON KAY GEORGE is assistant professor of evangelism and missions at Austin Seminary.