USA (MNN) — According to a couple of recent surveys in the United States, more than 70% of the population claim to be Christian. A Gallop poll suggests the number is 78%. While that number seems high to many evangelical leaders, one organization says the United States is actually home to a segment they're trying to reach — the least-reached.
Stan Self with The Mission Society says, "100 years ago that percentage would have been 97%. So, much has changed over the last number of years. Mostly, the population in the last couple of decades has made some dramatic changes."
According to Self, "Some 40 million people that are living here today are people who were born in another country. That's a situation that just hasn't existed before. A lot of that is brought about by legal immigration."
That means people from many difficult cultures and religions are now in the U.S. Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and many other religions are now more common in everyday America–particularly the inner city.
Self says churches have been behind in seeing this trend because they're more focused on attracting people to church. "We're really missing large segments of the population because most of our messages are speaking to people who are basically like us."
This presents a problem because many of neighbors don't resonate with the church. Self adds, "If we're really going to come in contact with these folks, we're going to have to get out in our communities, in our cities, and begin to establish relationships."
Self says the church has been slow in doing this. "We need to become 'go-to' congregations as opposed to 'come-to' congregations so that we can engage these least-reached that are among us."
In many cases, churches have moved away from this segment of society. "A lot of the churches that were downtown have moved out to the suburbs and in some ways abandoned the inner cities."
However, even that is changing. So, where are the least-reached? "They could be in the cities. They could be in the Universities, because there is a huge number of international students who come and study here. They could be in our neighborhoods in the suburbs — almost anywhere."
What should Christians do about this? "Build relationships with people," says Self. "Build friendships with people. It's only when we begin to do that do we really create an opportunity where we can begin to introduce the Gospel into the conversation."
While many immigrants want friendships, Self says, "Often times we find that these folks end up living pretty isolated lives because the broader population doesn't reach out to them."
The Mission Society has some resources to help you and your church in your quest to reach out. "We have some teaching methods and some other things that we use — materials and so forth — to help people begin to develop a Global Outreach Plan and do the very thing that we're talking about locally, nationally, and internationally."
If you'd like to find out more about this or would like to download The Mission Society's magazine titled "Unfinished," which focuses on the least-reached this month, click here.