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?

JD Grear is advertising a missions conference at Northwood Church, in Keller, TX called Global Faith Forum.

Pastor Bob Roberts has a number of WORLD leaders… Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, representatives of the State Departments and Muslim republics around the world, etc at his church to talk about the needs of people around the world and how the church can be instrumental in meeting them.

The speakers include Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, representatives of the State Departments and Muslim republics around the world.  To be an effective witness to the world, we need to know what matters to them.

What caught my eye was the strategy for reaching out:

rather than start with the head, and try to get to the  heart, we should start with the hand (serving together with Muslims, etc to meet needs of Muslims), which will win us into their heart, which will allow us the opportunity to discuss things with the head (about issues of disagreement in faith, etc).

What can your congregation do to reach the hands of your target group, in a way that you can engage their mind and turn their heart.

What does it mean to  be ‘missional’?  Is that different from being ‘mission-focused’? Does it matter what you call it?  Does it matter if you do it?

I’m not sure the difference between being missional and being mission-focused.  I suspect they are at least close to one another.  Both move a congregation to being aware of missions, and into actually participating in missions.

I know from experience it starts with being aware of the need.  It means going deeper than just ‘bless all the missionaries over there’ to knowing about what a specific missionary does day to day in relationship with a specific people group.  The congregation begins to pray for and to give  donations to that specific missionary over and above the generalized denominational offerings.  Finally someone breaks out and goes somewhere.  Over time, if nurtured properly, the whole congregation gets behind the movement and a sizeable portion of the congregation gets involved.

It’s transformative.

In almost every case, it pulls the members closer to one another and closer to God.  They get a sense that what they are doing is important, and if they didn’t do their part, people would starve or die from disease, and people would go to hell without Jesus.

Perhaps the difference I’ve seen are those that focus their attention on the unreached peoples elsewhere in the world, and those that serve the forgotten, abandoned and estranged people in their local community.  Both are important.  Both should be celebrated.  And people need training in how to be ‘on mission’ in both locations.

Enter Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI), a publishing source for Episcopal support materials.  The story I get from the CPI press release is that their initial offering is five books of practical wisdom.

  • Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-shaped Ministries on a Shoestring, By Becky Garrison
  • Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context
  • Mission-shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing Context, by Paul Bayes, Tim Sledge, John Holbrook, Mark Rylands, and Martin Seeley
  • Mission-shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission, by Susan Hope
  • Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church, by Steven Croft

I haven’t read them, but the titles seem interesting.  (I just received Becky’s in the mail this weekend.)  If you’ve read one or all, let me know what you think.  If you want to get a copy, they are available from the CPI Bookstore.

One way to get a church moving is to be involved in the lives of people outside your congregation.  Mission trips are great, but for those that aren’t ready to go, you can “spiritually adopt” someone who  has gone.  Like Radical John:


Dr Avery Willis, one of the undisputed heroes of Baptist Missions, is again championing the campaign called Great Commission Resurgence (GCR).  GCR is a reminder that 90% of the world is lost in sin, and 1.5 Billion people have little or no access to the Gospel. 

Dr Willis has himself been a missionary, to Thailand, and the head of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB).  It was his compilation of disciplemaking materials “MasterLife” that had such a tremendous impact on my spiritual growth.  So when he reminds us that “less than one tenth of one percent of Southern Baptists become missionaries,” we listen.  And when he says that “97.5% of the money in the offering plates stays at home and only 2½ % gets to the rest of the world,” it gets our attention.

The GCR Task Force is due to report out what the Southern Baptists ought to do to reach our world.  It worries him when he thinks what he’ll hear.  I think Dr Willis is worried that we will create another program, but not really motivate anyone to do anything about it. 

I ‘ve been addressing this as a common theme for some time.  On Dec 4, I told you about the 7 Deadly Sins of a Dying Church – number 4 is an inward focus.  Unless a church is focused outside its walls, it is in danger of dying as a congregation.

My recommendation is to start with prayer for an unreached people group.  Pray that God will send missionaries there, and then pray for those missionaries.  Take up special offerings for them.  Treat them as if you are their home church.  Treat them better than their home church.  Take part of the church budget and send someone to that unreached place to gain first-hand knowledge of what to pray for.  Train every member of the church to share their faith and to become mighty in prayer.  Instill a desire in every one to pick up and move to the mission field.  (If they do, God will bring replacements or take you with them!)

The surest way to build a church is through prayer for missions.  It will grow the kingdom and grow the people.  And it will change your giving priorities.

What is the end result of a struggle for control?  Is it a process of cleaning the weeds so the garden can flourish?  Or is it more like topping the tree in an attempt at keeping it from overtaking the landscaping – to keep in under control?

In the early 1980s, the Southern Baptist Convention began to come apart.  The argument was couched in spiritual terms – that teachers in the colleges weren’t doctrinally pure enough.  There were even heresy investigations of some who challenged their students’ faith in the classroom to give them tools to counter opposition in the real world.  The result was an intellectional split in the theological direction, and a physical split in some parts of the convention.  Texas and Virginia now have two theologically different Southern Baptist Conventions.  Some who consider themselves historical Southern Baptist now belong to a new Cooperative Baptist Convention.

At the time, there was a charge that it was a grab for money.  The SBC had become the largest Protestant denomination in the country and the largest Baptist convention in the world, with billion dollar budgets.  It sponsored 5 national seminaries and sub-convention associations supported dozens of colleges, hospitals and orphanages.

As it happened, the SBC, formerly the fastest growing provider of the Gospel in the world, stopped growing.

Except for the years following the Civil War, an analysis of growth trends show a 3%-5% year-to-year growth rate that tapered off after 1980 and began to top out in the mid 90s, turning to actual declines in total membership in 2005.

So when the US economy hit a bump in 2009, that decline in membershp began to take a financial hit.

And so comes a realization from denominational leaders that, just perhaps, they overdid their zealous enforcement of their brand of orthodoxy.  The realization reminded leaders of ousted Southern Seminary faculty member  Bill Leonard, who had predicted that once the conservatives took control of the SBC’s massive infrastructure, they would soon turn on one another.   And so they have. 

In a bid to shore up funding of missions agencies, the central funding organism, called the Cooperative Program -an innovative approach to pool voluntary church contributions to accomplish common activies, is now at risk.  Churches are beginning to fund individual missions and missionaries, or reserving funds for local actions.  There is also suspicion that most money is going for maintenance. (One trusted source said that an estimated 60% of weekly tithes goes to repay loans on buildings.)

This is an intersting object lesson for individual churches.  If you drive off your most passionate dissenters, does it change your core message?  Are you still focused on reaching your whole community for the Gospel, or are you seen as only after their money?  Are you inclusive or exclusive?  Choose wisely; you will have to live with the future you create.  


Everyone wants the secret to keeping their church vibrant and growing.  What one thing to add to their program that will amp up the return on time investment and send visitors crowding into the sanctuary?

Those whose congregations are dwindling will settle for a moment of triage to stop the bleeding, to stabilize the outflow of members and attract fresh members.

For both cases, one simple answer is to stop focusing on yourself.  Packing the pews or gaining a big donor is not the answer.  The answer lies in the geography of Israel.

There are two main lakes large enough to be called seas: Galilee and the Dead Sea.  The first is a vibrant body of water, with vital fishing and irrigation industry.  The second will not support life.  Both have an incoming source.  Only one has an exit.

What keeps Galilee productive is the constant outflow of water.    The outflow is not the result of water coming in; water leaving drops the level of the lake, creating an imbalance, an opening for new water to rush in from upstream to correct for the drop. 

What the church needs is a viable outflow.  Note I said viable.  This is spirit-filled activity that engages the congregation in ministry and evangelism in ways that expend physical, spiritual and financial energy, without having to sever membership ties. 

For some, it is taking on a social cause:  a soup kitchen, a thrift store, an after-school program, a kids’ athletic league.  While good to do, they will generally not achieve a level of spiritual return commensurate with the energy expended.  The Return on Investment isn’t strong enough.

I’d suggest more purely spiritual tasks.  If you want a spiritual – and not jsut social – return, you need a spiritual investment.  The easiest is prayer walking.  Walk through the neighborhood and pray for each household.  Go door to door and offer to pray about needs they might have. (Write the need down, but don’t leave without praying on the spot.)

Missions is also a good approach.  Adopt a missionary or unreached people group and commit to specific, focused prayers for a substantial time (daily for a month, weekly for a year, etc.)  Pray for spiritual victories, for salvation of the people, for protection of the missionary.  Make contact with a missions representative about the region and learn what to pray for, and then be super-specific.

In praying this way, you will model Jesus to them, the way His disciples asked to be taught to pray.  They will grow spiritually.  The congregation will grow in unity of purpose.  The church will develop spiritually mature leaders.  And the drop in available spiritual energy will allow God to refill the reservoir with fresh resources.