The term UPG – Unreached People Group – refers to any identifiable population or tribe where there is less than 2% gospel penetration and/or little or no indigenous church planting.  There might be an active missions effort or not, but so long as the congregations rely on outside support for survival, they are not considered indigenous.  In extreme cases, there is no substantive or consistent witness to the Christian gospel message.

At our church in Massachusetts in the 1990s, we had relied on outside missions teams to run our summer camps and perform repair and maintenance of our buildings for most of our history.  We were a self-run independent congregation, but a sliver denomination in an area that was overwhelmingly post-Christian, with 90% not attending any kind of Christian assembly on a consistent basis.

Even so, we started our own mission (co-funded with outside support!) to the up and outs in downtown Boston, and planted the congregation on Beacon Hill, just blocks from the statehouse.

This was similar to what Eric Metaxas refers to as the UPG of cultural elites.  His essay on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians illustrates the importance of reaching those with influence and the dangers of retreating to our closeted safe congregations.

By giving in to our pride and abandoning the elite culture of places like New York City Christians have hurt the rest of the culture by allowing a secular worldview to dominate the whole culture, just as it did in England before. Surely a God who would have us humble ourselves and pray for demon-worshiping cannibals would have us humble ourselves and reach out to pro-choice television anchors, too.

It’s a question worth pondering.  How is your congregation reaching out to those not like you, those in civic and cultural leadership positions in your community?

Today is the holiday to commemorate Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  On this day, I usually listen to some of his speeches, such as the eloquent word choices in the Dream speech given at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 1963.  I listened again today on NPR in the car, and then again when I got home. (watch it yourself)

One thing that struck me this year was the introduction.  Dr King was called ‘the spiritual leader of the nation.’  Not Billy Graham.  Not the other 4 speakers at that event (whose names are largely forgotten).  Dr King’s use of scripture to make a moral and social point in the middle of his speech, his insistence that civil rights was a spiritual problem to be addressed by spiritual means.

My home church did that earlier this month when they covered the front lawn with 2,470 crosses, to call attention to the abortion issue.  Not a political statement, but a statement of belief, calling attention to the problem in a way that would not be ignored by passers-by.  It got attention.  The sign was torn down and some of the  crosses were uprooted and thrown into the street.  The sign was replaced with a simple message: “considering abortion? there is an alternative.  call us” and gave the number.  It made the paper.

There are other examples, of course, of Christians giving the faith a bad name.  Protesting funerals.  Pastors arrested for unholy acts.  For these we cringe, and move forward in spite of them.

What are you doing to advance the Gospel in the community?   Wilberforce and his group of friends reshaped England and Western Civilization by speaking out against slavery and complacency.  How are you exercising spiritual leadership?

Tis the season for year-end charitable giving.  In America, many businesses give Christmas/Holiday/year-end bonuses, and charities are ready to receive a portion of that largess, to help offset the tax implications of the large influx of cash.

Some of us receive meager bonuses, or special pay at other times of the year, so it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch from the outside.  But for the enterprising charity, it can be a windfall, and some have come to rely on this time of year to stay ‘in the black.’

Today I received one of the most effective notices I’ve seen.  It was the end-of-year tax statement.  Normally, these come in January, since most organizations don’t want to spend the extra accounting time calculating the receipt twice.  But this charity has found a way to make the effort pay off.

Team Impact is an impressive ministry.  About a dozen strong men travel around giving shows.  It’s easy to get a crowd to show off extraordinary feats of strength: bending frying pans, tearing phone books, breaking blocks and crashing through ice walls.  In schools they give a message of strength and humility, of good character.  And they invite the kids and their parents to the church for an evening repeat performance.  At the church house, they can give Christian testimony and offer an altar call.  It’s effective.

What they did today that was effective was to send the receipt for my token gift before the end of the tax year, along with ministry information and a donation envelope.  It puts them top of mind, reminding me of how I supported them back in April, with a gentle request for continued giving, inside a mailer they are required by law to send me.  They did not waste the opportunity.

The biggest take-away is to always give existing donors an opportunity to support you again.

The Christmas season is upon us.  No doubt your church is already scheduled music, special services, and lighting the advent wreath.  Are you using this as a growth opportunity?

Have you advertised on community and online bulletin boards?  I posted notice for our church’s presentation on the ‘Events’ page of the local paper,and the 3  local TV stations and 3 radio stations that had events pages.  Posters went up at workplaces and stores that were amenible.  (Not many stores will post flyers at high impact times like this -for fear of alienating those that come later and don’t have space to post – but you can ask.)

Every special music presentation should point the listener to an understanding of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  If the music & story line doesn’t implicitly say so, the moderator or pastor must make the connection clear between the birth and death and resurrection.  Don’t assume everyone there is a believer.  I have a Jewish coworker coming to hear me sing, knowing it’s a church; she will hear the Gospel plainly.

I say this because I was chatting on an online news site last week and another mentioned he was a-theist; he wasn’t against God, just didn’t believe it was true.  He said his friends told him his lack of belief would send him to hell, but never told him how to be saved.  I mentioned that some believers don’t know how to share the faith, and pointed him to an online explanation of the plan of salvation.  He replied with thanks for my concern, at not condemning his position but offering a solution.  He said he’s never been told the Gospel before.

In your Christmas audience may be an uncle, grandma, child or friend who has never before clearly heard the Gospel.  They just came to hear the music, or to spend time with someone, or to keep peace in the family.  Never let the opportunity pass to provide a reason for the season.

Reading further in the Lifeway article on the role of music in church, it notes reasons many in today’s churches don’t sing.  Most are the fault of the church’s worship leader.

Knowing what to sing

The first is that folks don’t know the music.  Our church used to sing a lot of new choruses.  But then we’ve got several Christian radio stations.  When I lived in Massachusetts, there were none.  We didn’t hear many new choruses.  There, it would take several times singing to get the words down.  If you have a choir, teach the chorus to them and let them support the congregation at first.

Today, our church has the opposite problem.  The new worship pastor likes to use hymns as well.  The old folks love it, but the young people didn’t grow up with them, and it’s both foreign words and strange music.  Again, having a choir helps support the singing.

It’s too hard

The second reason is the range.  A lot of choruses are sung in the same key they are played on the radio.  By a Tenor.  Today’s choruses tend to be written for high voices, but most of  the congregation are middle to low voices, and a fairly small vocal range.  When the song exceeds their ability to sing it, they will quit singing.

Sounds like a concert

The third reason is that we present the music as a concert.  Many churches don’t have choirs, but only a worship band.  Often the music is loud, like a concert, in a warehouse situation, and even if the person did sing, they couldn’t hear the other voices around them.  It sounds like they are singing alone, and if they feel they don’t have a good voice, they’re not comfortable singing alone in public.

The solution would be to lower the volume of the instruments, or sing a capella some.  Sound management in the room (dampening, amplifying congregation sound, etc) can also help.


When people don’t sing, it’s because the music leader is picking music the congregation doesn’t know, or because they feel like they’re singing alone, or they don’t see how their singing adds to the sound, there being so much else from the band.

To improve congregational singing, the simplest is to have a choir, and to tone down the instruments some.

Mike Harland has written an intriguing article on the state of congregational singing in modern churches.  It raises questions about the role of music in the church.

Congregations not singing

His job as a xxx at Lifeway has led him to an understanding that”people do not sing like their parents and grandparents did. And even worse, the leaders of those churches don’t seem to know it.”

He notes that “worship has become very produced with visual enhancements and top sound re-enforcement.”  Not that it’s bad, in an of itself.  It actually helps the singing if the words are up on the screen, and not small words in a hymnal down in your hands.  It lets them “lift their voices” to the Lord.

The problem is when the it turns into a performance, and the musicians start treating the congregation like an audience.  In those cases, the music gets in the way of worship of God.


In every discussion about church growth and vitality, the conversation will inevitably turn to the role of music, and which style to use.  The speaker mentions a particular megachurch that started with 3 guys in a living room that also played guitar, and that brought a crowd and soon the 3 became 300 and then 3000.  The implication is that music brought and kept the crowds.

That’s really a false assumption.  There are thriving  churches with country music.  There are robust congregations that sing hymns.  There are active parishes with robes that sing chants.  Some use orchestras, some rock bands, some a piano and organ, some a CD player.  Some are a capella.

When music gets in the way

Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship” was written after his home church, Soul Survivor, in Watford, England, topped singing. The congregation was struggling to find meaning in the busyness, so pastor Mike Pilavachi decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season.  “When the music fades, and all is stripped away…” was more than a good lyric.  It was how the church reconnected with the heart of worship, how the church family learned to be “producers in worship, not just consumers.”

Reconnecting the music

Eventually, Soul Survivor Church added back the music, but with purpose. The music was then to support the congregational worship, not an activity that mimicked worship.
Source: Song Story