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Sunday, December 10, 2006


What do we mean when we talk about "reaching people?" Is it the same as telling them about Jesus? What makes a people group "reached?" Having heard the gospel? Having access to it? Having a viable church planted among them?

The IMB's current strategy is to "engage" (send missionaries to) people groups that we classify as "unreached" (less than 2% evangelical) and that also have populations of 100,000. Using the 2% rule, there are thousands of unreached people groups that number lower than the 100k minimum. Nevertheless, the IMB does not actively seek to send missionaries to work among these smaller groups. Why not?

It seems to me that these numbers were picked by IMB marketers to provide a goal for our organization that was ambitious, yet attainable.


Ken Sorrell said...

I definitely agree with you that the concept of "reached" and "unreached"seems somewhat subjective in nature. I personally prefer to address people groups and segments based upon their level of accessibility to the Gospel and to what level there is a viable, reproducing church in there midst.

We also need to remember that we as
Southern Baptists and as a missions organization are not the only ones charged with taking the Gospel to the world. Every church and or missions sending organization will set some type of criteria to determine where they will send missionaries. We can only hope that when put it all together, everyone will have the opportunity to hear.

By the way, you end with, "These numbers were picked by IMB marketers to provide a goal for our organization that was ambitious, yet attainable." I would be curious to know your basis for this statement.

Strider said...

I wrote a brilliant reply to this earlier today and then my internet died just as I was going to publish it. So, this will be the less brilliant version.

Reached for me has to do with access. Can a person in whose life the Spirit moves even find the truth? If not then he is in an unreached place. I don't speak of unreached people because by my understanding there are truckloads of unreached individuals in Texas but certainly they are in a 'reached' area. They could find the truth on the next street corner in most cases. So, 'reached' is about providing groups of people with access. The most effective access is an indigenous church nearby. So, my country is unreached because the 23 small groups in our capitol city are not capable of providing truth to the seven million the people who live here.

As for the less than 100,000 number that is not as much an issue as you would think. There are seven of these small groups identified in our country and we were told the company line that there would not for now be resources and personnel to reach them. So, we are doing it ourselves and finding much more resources from our org than you would think. One of our team became an SC for these groups and now he is trying to get more personnel and he even has an SIL translator working on the major language for scripture translation. We don't always have a plan but I am convinced that He does. Whenever we move to cross the next barrier that we think is insurmountable the Boss shows us that He is already at work on the other side waiting for us.
As far as whether someone picked the 2% number so it could be reachable well, I don't think so. I heard a lot about the God-size nature of the task for the first years I was here. I did not hear uncle Jerry talk about the task being reachable until about 2002 when he said that he for the first time thought that we could see all the major people groups reached in his lifetime.

The bottom line for me is that people are lost and the King has a plan to reach them. I don't know how 'calvinist' you are but I believe the reason we have not 'reached' them is that we have not walked in faith with the resources we have. The King is raising up some great people and I believe he is making it possible to get everywhere.

Now, back to 'reached'. We don't see very clearly what the King is about. We have to stay obedient to the voice that calls us in order to see His plans come to fruition in our lives. Seeing with the natural eye is useless. It may be that the key He has for 'reaching' the unreached in my own Middle Earth is someone you encourage and minister to in cold, spiritually dead Western Europe. We don't know. Statistics and maps have value for challenging our faith and vision but we will only find His WILL by being obedient to His voice.

stepchild said...

Thanks for asking about that last line in my post. I've changed it to better show the difference between the stated strategy numbers given by the Board (population 1000,000, >2% evangelized).

I don't mean it as an accusation, either. I just can't see any other reason for these specific parameters. To my knowledge, none has been given.

I certainly don't mean to say that I feel constrained by the IMB's strategy, just that it, like the term "reached," seems to be ambiguous and randomly selected.

Bryan Riley said...

I have often wondered what the term really meant myself. I pray that regardless of the earthly authorities and the terms bantered about that Christians the world over would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's call on their life to go as He directs and reach many more with the good news of Jesus.

Ken Sorrell said...

Part of the reason for these numbers being set to where they are has to do with our partnership with other mission agencies and the goals set in cooperation with these other groups. I believe that once all or most of these groups have been engaged by someone, you will see the pendulum swing back to looking again at other groups set by a different set of criteria. No insider knowledge here, just observation and listening from afar.

insouthasia said...

We have been told that a rather famous "purpose-driven" mega church from California is taken on the leadership role for those "unreached" groups lower than 100,000. They haven't been forgotten.

Anonymous said...

I am curious to know what you mean by IMB "marketers" and why you would use that term?

stepchild said...

After all of the larger UPGs are engaged, what do you suppose we'll focus on next?

Yeah, I guess Curtis Sergeant left the IMB to help them develop a strategy to reach the smaller UPGs.

I use the word "marketers" here to refer to those individuals who are responsible for communicating and advertising the Board's strategy for the sake of education, mobilization, and fund raising. Would you suggest a different word?

Ken Sorrell said...


Don't believe everything you read. That particular church began engaging some smaller churches in our region and for some reason has pulled out of that strategy. I'm not sure where that one is going yet.


Again this is purely conjecture on my part, but after the big groups are engaged I think you will see us turn to other smaller unengaged groups first. Then I think regions around the world will re-enter groups they thought were moving forward but have stalled. Also, we never know what a change in leadership will do to our current strategies.

Anonymous said...

Re "marketers" - the current strategy was determined by IMB staff, field leadership, and trustees, under the leadership of the Lord.

stepchild said...

There's a difference between coming up with a strategy and communicating it. I believe that the team of people you refer to, Spirit-led though they may be, also take into consideration what is often referred to as "denominational buy-in."

In other words, the Board will not (and, in my opinion, should not) implement a strategy that is not supported by the majority of Southern Baptists (those who give so generously.) Whatever the "IMB staff, field leadership, trustees, and the Lord" come up with, they've got to "sell" it to the people in the pews.

See, marketing isn't always a bad word.

In this case, I think that the IMB marketers (would you be more comfortable with "publicists?") cannibalized our own offerings. In many cases, the only missiology Southern Baptists ever get is what IMB advertising gives them. If our ads tell people that we've almost "finished the task," I can see how it would get people excited about supporting missions. Unfortunately, we've also (perhaps inadvertently) told our constituents that work in "reached" areas, or among smaller unreached groups is less important.

I wish the strategists talked more about the "whys" behind what we do. Until they take the opportunity to educate our people about missiological principles, our strategies will be nothing more than marketing campaigns (and yes, here, I've used the word in a negative sense).

By the way, were you trying to play the "The-LORD-came-up-with-our-strategy-so-don't-you-question-it" card in your comment? It kind of seemed like it.

Anonymous said...

No, I was not trying to "play a card" as you put it, and I think that is an unfair comment for you to make. You stated that the numbers were picked by IMB marketers, and I was pointing out that your statement is not correct. In many postings, you seem to be dismissive of the organization to which you have voluntarily aligned yourself, and I do not understand why. Yes, there are things that the IMB could/should do in different ways. I do not understand, however, how it is edifying or helpful to express such suspicion of your leadership.

stepchild said...

I did not mean to offend you. I'm sorry if my words seemed harsh or unfair. My intention with this post was to question the idea of "reaching people" and the numbers our organization has selected as guiding and strategic.

Whoever is behind the Board's greater strategy and missiology has not, to my knowledge, shared with our personnel (or with the general public) any rationale whatsoever for the things we're discussing here. Until they do, I will voice my questions (meaning no disrespect of the organization) and concerns.

I trust IMB leadership. I also think that obedience and stewardship require that we constantly evaluate who we are and what we are doing. Any leaders, no matter how godly, need feedback in order to be able to do this. Through this blog, I receive such feedback from others, and offer it to anyone who's interested.

If I didn't ask questions, everyone would assume that all of us were in total agreement with the current missiology. By offering suggestions and possible solutions, I seek to encourage my colleagues who struggle as I do with being a missionary.

There's a difference between "suspicion" and "speculation." I'm not in the least bit suspicious of IMB leaders and strategists, but without hearing directly from them in matters of missiology and strategy, I can only speculate as to their motivations, reasons, and thought processes.

I realize that this comment probably won't make you feel any better about what I've written or about me as a person. For that, I am sorry. Perhaps you would be happy to learn that the terrific discussion (terrific to me) in the comments section of my recent post "Messed Up Missiology" involved extensive participation from those who you refer to as "IMB leadership."

Thankfully, it would seem that not everyone in the organization feels dismissed by my posts.

Anonymous said...

You have not offended me, so please don't worry about that. My concern is more with the tone and trend of blogs that give a narrow view without providing readers with the bigger, worldwide picture.
As Ken asked in another string, if you were president, how would you determine how to best shape the strategy of the IMB. There are X number of workers and X number of dollars available in a world of people who don't know Jesus. How would you decide where those resources go?
Also, you ask these questions on your blog, but have you asked Dr Rankin? Your RL? Other leadership? When you are on stateside assignment, do you seek to sit down with those in Richmond to gain greater insight? Most likely I am simply unaware of you taking those opportunities.
I seriously doubt anyone assumes that lack of comment implies agreement. Posing questions is one thing; posing speculations about motives is another.
Please do not read a negative or spiteful tone in these comments as that is not my intent.

Debbie said...

I find that questioning is helpful and healthy... that includes questioning leaders. Leaders are human and sometimes they are so far removed from the situation that what looks good on paper doesn't transfer well when it comes to putting it into reality. We should never be afraid or so trusting that we do not question. The day we cannot question things is the day we might as well check our brains at the door.

Ken said...

To all commenting,

Questioning is appropriate if the questions are asked in an appropriate and respectful tone. I have been in statside conference sessions where the tone and attitude of the missionary asking the question of senior leadership was anything but respectful. In fact, many attempted to use clever wording as a way to disguise a personal attack. I do not believe this to be honoring to our Lord.

I agree with Debbie that we should not be afraid to ask questions and with Stepchild that leadership needs feedback. However, we, the rank and file, also need the wisdom of knowing when it is time just to keep silent.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

Ken, Debbie and Anon...
Yes, questions, appropriately asked should receive appropriate answers. But, too often, even truly innocent questions are misconstrued by insecure or incompetent leaders. And, yes, I have seen incompetent leaders on the field. Fortunately, they do not last long, but their legacies hinged the work for years to come.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

Sorry, should proof-read before submitting...the last line should have said hampered...