Immigration and migration represent a Great Commission opportunity for the church.
Migration is not a new phenomenon. A casual reading of Scripture reveals this fact. God is at work in the world, and in his sovereignty, he is moving people and peoples to new homes so they might learn of his goodness and love. Immigration and migration represent a Great Commission opportunity for the church. Acts 17:26–27a reminds us:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
But where should we start as we seek to reach our new neighbors? How should the local church approach reaching people from different parts of the world that now live in their community?
If your church’s vision and mission statements don’t reflect God’s heart for the world and Jesus’s command to make disciples of all nations, prayerfully edit them!
Build a Plan!
First things first! Your plan or strategy should flow from the church’s vision and mission statements. If they don’t reflect God’s heart for the world and Jesus’s command to make disciples of all nations, prayerfully edit them! Now you can follow these five steps to build a plan to engage internationals in your community: discover, equip, send, partner, and celebrate.
Guide your church to determine why it is imperative to reach the nations, understand the biblical foundations, and understand what ethnicities live in the communities the church serves. The goal is to cultivate and establish a biblically based vision that will mobilize your church to reach internationals and learn what nationalities are around you. Help your faith family understand what Scripture says about God’s mission and heart for the world. Explore what people groups and ethnicities live in your community by ordering a demographic report from a supplier like MissionInsite. Learn more by walking through your neighborhoods to confirm what the study reports. Remember that businesses are members of your community, too. Workers are just as much a part of the community as residents. Discover the potential champions in your church that can help lead the ministry efforts to reach and disciple internationals.
Next, use your church’s natural ministry rhythms and disciple-making processes to train your members to reach people from other cultures. The goal is to prepare the church to engage internationals in contextually relevant and culturally sensitive methods for gospel-sharing and discipling. Increase your member’s cross-cultural intelligence and develop competencies. Begin by honestly assessing where the church is regarding cross-cultural ministry. Consider adopting a framework for sharing the gospel that can be versatile enough to communicate the gospel in a variety of cultural contexts, like 3 Circles. Train volunteers in reproducible processes for making disciples among internationals using a curriculum like Four Fields of Kingdom Growth. Invite and involve any internationals already a part of your church in equipping the church at large—they have much-needed wisdom and insight. See them as partners in ministry from the beginning.
This step is where it gets fun! Send the church out to engage internationals with the gospel! This step aims to design and establish ministry opportunities that put your church in a position to serve the international community, engage internationals with the gospel, and enter into disciple-making relationships. Be creative as you brainstorm ways to serve and share. Consider the needs of refugees arriving in your city and be part of the welcoming process. Explore translation needs as well as English-as-second-language classes. Encourage your members to invite internationals into their homes to experience holidays and celebrations like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Take advantage of holidays and observances among your community’s population segments. For example, host an Iftar evening meal for your Muslim friends as they break their fast for the evening meal during Ramadan. Consider sending out servants to engage the international students at the local college and university.
Identify like-minded partners (individuals and organizations) for mutual encouragement, insight, and assistance in reaching your international neighbors. The objective is to create outside partnerships with appropriate ministries and individuals to further engage, reach, disciple, and work with internationals. Identify and contact potential organizational partners to initiate conversations leading to working agreements, complementing mutual and shared vision of reaching internationals. Start with your local denominational association and agencies that help churches in mission endeavors. Include local, state, and federal governmental agencies to see if there are ways to work with them (without compromise) to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees. One resource potentially overlooked is retired missionaries in your community who likely possess invaluable skills and experience in reaching internationals. As appropriate, develop memorandums of understanding and partnership agreements to guide the partnership.
Celebrate and intentionally praise God for what he is doing among the nations in your ministry area and how the church engages the international community. The goal is to create a celebrative environment of rejoicing and praise in response to what God is doing to bring internationals to know and worship him. Create accessible pathways for sharing with your faith family what God is doing and how ministry is going. Work with teaching and worship leadership staff to creatively share stories as you minister among internationals. Identify ways to celebrate specific cultures represented in your community.
Flexibility and adjustment will be necessary as your church takes intentional steps to engage, reach, and disciple internationals. You must respond with a timely evaluation and review of strategy effectiveness to make necessary adjustments.
The church might consider language-specific, ethnic church planting as it engages and seeks to meet the needs of first-generation immigrants and refugees, especially those that lack English language skills. Be motivated by long-term effectiveness rather than practicality. Ask, “Should there be a monoethnic church, or is there the opportunity to build a true multiethnic faith family?”
As intentional efforts are made to reach people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, recognize the possibility of cultural bias, paternalism, and even racism. Be proactive in giving careful attention to these potential challenges.
Inclusion is nice but has its limitations. Belonging is more powerful than simply being included. Design your ministry strategy to recognize and celebrate the imago Dei in everyone.
Finally, adopt a mindset of “ministry with” rather than “ministry to.” The tendency, especially with outreach to international populations, is to start with ministry to the specific group instead of being with them. Pastor and author Mark Hearn explains in his book Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry that this is “the difference in being for you and with you. The commitment to be with someone is far deeper, but worth it.” Inclusion is nice but has its limitations. Belonging is more powerful than simply being included. Design your ministry strategy to recognize and celebrate the imago Dei in everyone.
Building and implementing a strategy to reach internationals will be challenging, but considering the picture of eternity future in Revelation 7:9–10, it is well worth it!