The representation of unreached people groups (UPGs) in North America is more diverse than anywhere in the world. These UPGs have little or no exposure to the gospel upon arrival and often impose social pressures on their people that repel Christian influence. Therefore, the North American church faces evangelism challenges and opportunities historically reserved for overseas pioneer missionaries. Over the last decade, I have observed the fruitfulness of several types of pioneer evangelists among UPGs in North American cities.
Cross-Cultural Evangelists without Overseas Experience
These evangelists are not trained in cross-cultural outreach overseas and they only use English. Nevertheless, they respond to the opportunity and develop evangelistic relationships with UPGs in homes, restaurants, and English ministries.
Issues and Opportunities
The greatest potential for increasing evangelists among UPGs in North America is in this category. North American Christians are already living in the same neighborhoods and working in the same jobs as UPGs. With a dose of intentionality, these Christians can step into strangers’ lives and be the only Christians they know. A Buddhist nun in Massachusetts once told me that only a couple of Christians had talked to her about the Bible in her 30 years in America, even though she was willing to learn.
While almost everyone involved in pioneer missions starts in this category, these evangelists see little fruit for their labor. The linguistic and cultural gap is too large. The evangelists communicate important spiritual concepts to people who often have a basic understanding of English. Even if the evangelist overcomes communication deficiencies by using gospel resources in the UPG’s language, they often lack the cultural understanding to bridge the gospel into the UPG’s culture or to help the UPG past their barriers to the gospel. In a 2017 study entitled, “Fruitful Practices in Ministry to the North American Muslim Diaspora” (Kronk, Daniels, Chapman, and Watson), only half of the evangelists surveyed who communicated in English had ever seen a convert.
Cross-Cultural Evangelists with Overseas Experience
These evangelists were often trained as missionaries overseas where they learned language and culture. A minority of the evangelists who do not have overseas experience move into this category through deliberate language learning in North America or extensive trips overseas to further relationships with contacts made and to immerse themselves in a lingua-culture.
Issues and Opportunities
Unreached peoples are unreached because they have little or no Christian presence in their culture. Therefore, outsiders are needed to introduce the gospel. When cross-cultural evangelists increase their ability to understand the UPG culture and communicate in the UPG’s language, the gospel is more clearly presented and understood. The UPG usually still immediately rejects the message since it is coming from an outsider, but a key barrier in the mission process is overcome when the gospel is communicated clearly. In the same 2017 fruitful practices among Muslims study cited above, 94% of evangelists who communicated the gospel in a language other than English had seen a convert. Becoming an evangelist with language skills is costly and time-consuming, but there are many returning missionaries from overseas who can be mobilized into new assignments among UPGs in North America.
Near-Culture and Same-Culture Evangelists
These are evangelists from within a UPG who are seeking to reach their own people, or they are evangelists from cultures similar to the UPGs they seek to reach. They are the most fruitful because the UPGs begin to see the feasibility of becoming a Christian. In meeting a Christian from their ethnic group for the first time, it is common to hear, “No, I don’t believe it. There’s no way one of our people has become a Christian.”
Issues and Opportunities
In some circumstances, Christians from cultures similar to UPGs will be living in proximity to UPGs for the first time in North American cities. In my book Superplan: a journey into God’s story (thesuperplan.com), I devote two chapters to Yusuf’s story. After Yusuf endured years of persecution in Burkina Faso for becoming a Christian, he became an effective evangelist among West African Muslims in New York City. Although he has been most effective in reaching people from his own ethnic group, he and his church have also led a wide variety of West African Muslims to Christ. Over the last 18 months, they have baptized around 30 West African Christians from a Muslim background from several countries.
Behind every fruitful same-culture or near-culture evangelist in North America, however, there is a cross-cultural worker that is assisting or supporting them in the work. That support has involved platforms for the same-culture evangelist to devote more time to ministry, space to operate out of, developing discipleship and church-planting processes, or even giving the evangelist the courage and emotional support to minister among their people. Near-culture evangelists are still outsiders and sometimes have to overcome their own barriers in reaching out to UPGs. Arabs or South Asians from a Christian-background, for instance, suffered decades of persecution as minorities in Muslim lands and often avoid Muslims after moving to North America. Christians from within a UPG experience persecution and are often reluctant to share the gospel with their people out of fear of perpetuating animosity. Nevertheless, a multiplication of disciples made and churches started will not take place until same-culture evangelists are actively ministering to their people. The most effective cross-cultural workers are doing what they can to raise up, find, and develop evangelists in this category.