Gateway Cities in North America
Identifying Global Priorities within North America for Frontier Missions
Not all unreached people are the same. The term, “unreached people groups (UPGs),” has become commonplace in missiology following Ralph Winter’s 1974 Lausanne address on cross-cultural evangelism. Winters explained how the gospel had spread geographically throughout the world but had not crossed into many of its socio-linguistic people groups. Biblically, verses such as Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 24:14, and Revelation 7:9-10 emphasize the gospel spreading to panta ta ethne, or, “all ethnic groups.” As a result, many mission organizations began prioritizing “unreached people groups,” which became categorized as less than 2% evangelical Christian.
Two online databases (joshuaproject.net and peoplegroups.org) track the status of Christian witness among the world’s people groups. According to Joshua Project, around 42% of the world’s people groups are still unreached.
Some pastors have claimed that people in their area of North America are under 2% evangelical and, therefore, on par with unreached people groups listed in these databases. There is a difference, however, in “unreached people” within a larger socio-linguistic people group who have a viable church (e.g., Anglo-Americans), and an entire “unreached people group” with little or no Christian presence to reach their people (e.g., Turks). Work among the latter is much more of a priority for the spread of the gospel to panta ta ethne.
In an article for the International Journal of Frontier Missions, R.W. Lewis writes that even unreached people groups fall into three distinct categories:
- people groups that have not had any movements to Christ (frontier people groups);
- people groups that now have sustainable indigenous movements among them, though small, and;
- people groups with a lot of non-evangelical or even nominal Christians who still need help with renewal and outreach to their own group.
A few years ago, we started an organization called Global Gates to spread the gospel through members of unreached people groups who have migrated to global gateway cities. These unreached people groups are either frontier people groups who do not have a church or are those with a church population too small to effectively spread the gospel among their people. Initially reaching these unreached people groups requires cross-cultural missionaries, whether these missionaries come from the host country or elsewhere.
With the increased awareness of access in North America to reach some of the least-reached people groups from some of the least-reached places of the world, efforts are being made to identify the most strategic unreached people groups represented in North America and where cross-cultural missionaries are most needed.
Two databases are helping clarify these needs.
Peoplegroups.info – Peoplegroups.info is a database of people groups in North America created and managed for the general evangelical community by the North American Mission Board (SBC) and International Mission Board (SBC). This site, while still a work in progress, has more accurate data on people groups in North America than their global counterparts. Also, this website is increasingly becoming a mobilization tool, with many rich features being added to help the church in reaching unreached people groups. One important addition to the site over the last few months is the “Most Significant UPG Community List in North American Cities.” In one table, all unreached people group communities currently documented on the website are listed in order of population size. The list can also be sorted by metro area, religion, country of birth, etc. A people group has to have 5,000 constituents in a metropolitan area to make the list, and all Christian-background groups have been removed to highlight the most strategic needs. Registered users with the site (a free service) have access to additional features, including updating or adding information on people groups.
Global Gates UPG Matrix – The Global Gates UPG Matrix seeks to identify where cross-cultural missionaries are currently most needed in North America. The list is sorted using an overall significance score based on a matrix of weighted factors including a people group’s global status of evangelical Christianity and the global significance of a people group’s presence in a city, along with typical categories of population size, amount of Christians, amount of ministry being done, and amount of churches started. In effect, the matrix prioritizes frontier people groups with the smallest Christian presence globally (e.g., small Hasidic Jewish groups with few believers score higher than large Bangladeshi people groups who have movements to Christ in their homeland). Furthermore, the matrix prioritizes unreached people group communities who have the least amount of missionaries and same-culture believers, even if those communities are smaller than others (e.g., Punjabi Sikhs in NYC score higher than Punjabi Sikhs in Vancouver because of the more developed missionary work in Vancouver). To be included in the list, an unreached people group community must number at least 5,000 in a metropolitan area. This list is being worked on steadily and will eventually provide scores for all of the unreached people groups in the peoplegroups.info UPG list. Feel free to help by filling out whatever you know about an unreached people group community through this questionnaire.
The North American church is already a dynamic force in global missions. The greatest need for cross-cultural missionary work remains overseas, but as J.D. Payne’s Strangers Next Door revealed and my book, Superplan: a journey into God’s story, further illustrates, God has opened gateways to many of the least-reached peoples of the world through North American gateway cities. Let’s be prayerfully strategic with our time and resources.
 R.W. Lewis, “Losing Sight of the Frontier Mission Task: What’s Gone Wrong with the Demographics?”, International Journal of Frontier Missions (35:1 Spring 2018), 5-15. Missiologists disagree on whether or not groups within the third category should be labeled as unreached. Because the word evangelical is relatively new in the history of the church and because there are genuine believers within other Christian expressions, Joshua Project considers people groups reached when they have over a 5% Christian presence of any kind.