With the global population nearing 7 billion and approximately 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups -- those with no active church-planting strategy and less than a 2 percent evangelical presence -- the task of narrowing down which people group to embrace can seem overwhelming to some Southern Baptist pastors and leaders.
"It's a daunting task," said Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We've been on a journey the last couple of years and trying to figure out what God wants us to do."
Harrison and a team from Old Town returned from a Southeast Asian country recently after assisting with International Mission Board work on the ground. They also encountered a group of people they may be interested in pursuing for a long-term partnership -- if the Lord leads.
Harrison admits he still has questions. The process of selecting an unengaged, unreached people group, he contends, seems to be "more art than science."
"I'm sort of a black-and-white kind of guy ... it is or it isn't," he said. "That's been part of our struggle ... trying to figure out how people identify themselves as people groups. Who is reached and who is unreached?"
To help answer some of those questions, Harrison plans to attend IMB's Embrace equipping conference Sept. 7 at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
The one-day event -- which is the first of four such meetings being held around the country -- will focus on assisting churches with exploring, identifying and embracing unengaged, unreached people groups.
Harrison hopes to connect with other "likeminded" pastors and church leaders seeking to be obedient to God's call on their lives.
"You talk about this stuff to some people, and they look at you like ... you came from Mars," he said. "If we can help motivate others, help smaller churches get involved who can't do it themselves, this is an incredible way to bring churches together."
'ROOTS OF PRAYER'
Old Town plans a return trip to Southeast Asia in the fall to revisit the people among whom God may be leading them to work. If all goes as planned, the congregation will begin 40 days of prayer to decide if that is the direction they should go.
Probably the most important part involves a "network of prayer," Harrison said. "If all anybody does is pray every day for this people group and pray for our engagement of them, then that is going to take us a long way toward the accomplishment of the task.
"If those roots of prayer can go deep within the congregation, then God's going to honor that," he added.
The final decision, Harrison said, will rest with church members.
"We believe it's a decision that's going to need the whole body being involved," he explained. "Ultimately, what I want to see happen is ... every couple of months there to be a team going to train those who are believers and to evangelize those who are not."
Though Harrison admits this process has felt like being in water "over head," that can be a good place to be, he said. "It's really a good thing to feel like you're swimming over your head because then that makes you more dependent on God."
Alan James is a senior writer at IMB. To learn more about registering for an Embrace equipping conference, go to www.call2embrace.org. For more information, call toll-free 1-800-999-3113.
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