When I leave my apartment for work in the morning, I exchange polite conversation with my Indian neighbor downstairs on the way out. And when I come home in the evening, my Muslim neighbor is walking with her children in the parking lot. Later on, I cross paths with my Spanish-speaking neighbor as we walk our dogs.
Small-town Mississippi is not the place one might expect to find global diversity. But internationals are quickly moving into communities as phenomenal global migration ripples over into even rural and traditional corners of the country. Non-white individuals will make up as much as 57% of the U.S. population by 2060, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. And as of 2006, Global Mapping International calculated that 429-830 different languages were spoken in the U.S.
What’s meaningful from a Christian perspective is that legal immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. in the past several years (reported by Pew Research from 2012 to 2016) are most likely to come from Africa and Asia – two regions where a large portion of the world’s unreached people groups are accumulated. So, we no longer have to travel thousands of miles around the world to find a lost person who has never heard about Jesus. They are living, literally, right at our doorsteps.
The question is this: What are we doing with that opportunity? Are we living like a missionary as much as we would if we were deep in Africa? Are we grieved and burdened by the knowledge that people living in our land of freedom are bound in captivity to false gods and empty idols as much as we would be appalled if we were on a foreign street lined with temples and shrines?
The fact is those from lost nations have made it easy for us to be missionaries by moving in next door and down the street. But many may not have close friendships with Americans, and even more, don’t know a Christian. As Gordon-Conwell’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity cited in 2013, 60% of non-Christians in the U.S., excluding atheists and agnostics, don’t personally know a Christian.
This lack of communication, and lack of evangelization, from Americans to immigrants is evident in churches. “Churches are 10 times less diverse than the neighborhoods they sit in,” sociologist Michael Emerson has said. And less than 15% of churches are ethnically diverse. If the unreached are not meeting Christians, they are not hearing the gospel; if they are not being witnessed to, they’re not likely to come to church.
Of course, those stats extend beyond immigrant groups to cover all diverse groups in America, whether home-born or first generation. But that hardly makes the situation better; it only means that we, as Americans, are truly neglecting our neighbors, not just those who may be difficult to reach because of a difference in language, cuisine, or background.
If American Christians want to live like missionaries with as much enthusiasm, strategic effort, and concern as we would have in packing to go overseas and endure unknown hardships, we have to be ready to reach the community in which we live, whoever is there – whatever color, nationality, religion, or culture. The sign that is being done effectively is when those same people are sitting in the church seats beside us on Sunday.
Click here to read more about what reaching the community looks like for the church in “Does your church reflect your community,” AFA Journal, 9/16.