Archive for the tag “Missional Church”

Immigration Policy and the Effect on Missions Worldwide, part 3: The Parallels

Mark 13:10 – And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.

There isn’t a lot of data when it comes to missionaries from America in the early stages of our country. The majority of Christian missions occurred internally before moving overseas. The majority of “missions” work came from denominations such as Methodists and Baptists scrambling to find enough pastors and leaders to go west. In 1790, there were only 13 states in America. The west was largely unknown.

The primary task was to build a nation while, at the same time, evangelizing the culture. Methodist circuit riders were very successful in this as they could cover large areas quickly and “plant churches” in areas that others couldn’t.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, much of the missionary work had been done by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. After the war, the Anglican church pulled out of America and we were left to our own leaders. Francis Asbury, for example, was a missionary to America and he traveled and preached across the country until his death in 1816.

What started in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, which would double the size of our country, was the first big move into missions for many evangelical Protestants. For a few hundred years already, Protestants were on mission to the Native Americans.

Many Christians believed they were in the last times after the Revolutionary War. Many believed it was important to convert as many people as possible before the coming of Christ. Missionary work fit well with this new dynamic in the young country.

By 1810, small group of men attending Andover Seminary banded together to follow the path that English Baptists were doing since 1792, evangelizing Asia. Men like Adoniram Judson and Samuel Mills created the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, supported by the Congregationalist denomination. They began raising money and creating resources and, by 1812, Judson and his wife left for India with a few other families. Eventually they reached Burma where they ministered for 38 years. Judson’s group was the first

Throughout the early 1800s, there were only a few hundred American missionaries throughout the world. By the turn of the century, there would still be very few missionaries worldwide. If you totaled all of the missionaries from both Europe and America throughout the 1800s, they would total no more than 15,000 and many of those died within their first 2 years in the field.

The main issue with missions throughout the 1800s was twofold:

  • With much of the young America in need of both evangelizing and social missions, many of the churches focused their missions efforts at home.
  • The War of 1812 caused Americans to lose their international spirit. This time of isolationism would last until just after the Civil War.

In 1800 only 1% of all Protestant Christians lived in Asia, Africa or Central/South America. Today that number totals 67% of all Protestants live there.

But this brings up a very interesting point. With regard to immigration reform, the problems with England caused an isolationist view, not just for missionaries, but for all of America. The isolationist views caused denominations and religious leaders to withhold much of their international missions activity.

The majority of missions happened at home.

But when the century changed from the 1800s to 1900, there was a large missions conference in New York City called the Ecumenical Missionary Conference. Over 162 different mission organizations were represented.  Much of the reason mission organizations became interested in overseas missions again is that after the Civil War, the United States was experiencing a labor shortage and opened up immigration to allow people to come in to offset that shortage. The influx of new cultures into America gave churches a taste of what else was outside of America.

All the major denominations formed their own missionary societies.

But the 1900s would not be without their share of problems, much of it tied to both immigration reform and the American dream. For much of the early 1900s we had significantly restrictive immigration policies against those of Asian descent. This led to many missionary agencies in Asia and eastern countries shutting down.

World War 1 ended in in 1918 and a few short years afterward America realized that we needed to protect our borders.

While American Protestants worked their way into Central and South America at the turn of the 20th century, the majority of cultural understanding didn’t start until soon after the signing of Bracero Agreement in 1942.

With many of the special allowances for Mexico and other countries, especially those from Europe, Asian countries started to remove American missionaries. Many missionaries in the 1950s were removed from China. This was partially due to Marxist ideology taking hold in China at the time, but the lack of deference for Asian, and primarily Chinese, immigrants led to China closing much of their opportunities for American missionaries during the 50s.

Another interesting parallel happened in the late 1960s. We passed preference system which replaced the quota system in 1965. Over the next few years, there would be an increase in missionary attacks and countries, like Guinea, for example, who would close their borders to all missionaries. Thousands of churches internationally would be destroyed. Coincidentally, the preference system that America adopted to help with immigration would prefer European countries and skilled workers but place a cap on the countries those countries that eventually expelled missionaries or started persecuting them.

Then in 1980, the Refugee Act opened up emergency immigration relief to those who were persecuted and then in 1986, the Simpson-Mazolli Act gave amnesty to over 2.7 million illegal immigrants. Also at the same time, there was a significant increase in the number of missions organizations throughout America. There were also some very large conferences on missions throughout the world. As a matter of fact, Time Magazine ran a cover article on missionaries in 1982.

These are just a few of the parallels that can be derived from the information. Honestly, I wish I had taken much more time in the research of this.

I wish I had taken this beyond just parallels.

There is no research out there at all about this topic. And it is something that perplexes me. With all of the missions organizations out there who make their livelihoods from ensuring the safety and growth of their missional communities, why would there not be any research done about this topic?

In all honesty, the research would be somewhat easy, although very time-consuming:

  • Contact every missions organization in the world (and there are thousands) and get their missionary information since their inception. Find out how many missionaries they had each year since they started, find out their low and high points on their organizational life cycle, and incorporate the number of missionaries that were commissioned and the number of churches that were planted versus the number of missionaries that either died or came out of the field as well as the number of churches that were closed/destroyed.
  • Consolidate the information from those organizations on a chart by year.
  • Overlay the highlights in American immigration reform.
  • That alone would be enough to give better data than simple parallels.
  • If you want to take it further, then reach out to the State Department for their take on the question.
  • Then reach out to countries that have traditionally been for and been against having missionaries in their countries. Speak to someone at the leadership level in those countries and get whatever information possible. This could be done through a simple questionnaire that would be standard for all countries contacted.
  • Plot their information on the combined yearly missionary chart to get key points along the timeline.

While that would get us enough for a published book on the topic, it would definitely not be enough to provide scientific evidence.

I would love to speak further with missions experts about this topic. I am sure that there is something there, I just can’t officially put my finger on it. If anyone would like to work together on a project like this, please reach out to me at

Isaiah 6:8 – And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Attractional? Missional? Hmmmm….yes

Attractional or Missional?


Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The one thing that keeps me up at night…well, ok, there is more than one thing, but the major thing that keeps me up at night is the challenge of the church to blend attractional and missional communities together.

Every single pastor I have ever met has fallen into one of two camps, missional or attractional.

I, myself, call myself a missional leader. The church I attend is an attractional church.

Neither one is wrong. Neither one, alone, is right. Both need to be part of the program for a Biblically-based church to exist.

There are a LOT of people out there who hate the mega-church movement. Once a church gets above 400, people start complaining that it is getting too big or growing too much. And there are valid concerns over many mega-churches out there. Everything from scam artists trying to get rich from the pulpit to simply bad theology fills the airwaves every Sunday morning. Many of those churches boast tens of thousands of attenders, all who give significantly to the “ministry.”

But those aren’t the churches I am talking about.

When I think of attractional churches, I think of Thomas Road in Lynchburg, VA or Hillsong Church around the world. These are churches that believe there needs to be something to attract people to them. It could be the music or the preaching or kid’s ministry or even the ice cream socials and hot dogs after service.

Then there are the missional churches. Those are the ones that believe that it doesn’t matter whether you have 35 or 3500, we are to make God’s mission our mission and we strive to create disciples no matter what. Typically, missional churches get stuck at small numbers. I have rarely seen a missional church very large, usually under 400. But these are the churches that are in the communities and are known for doing things that improve the communities that they are in.

The two churches seem like they are worlds apart in how they do church. And, in some ways, they are. The attractional church focuses on Sunday, the one day of the week where everything must come together to give God all the glory and hopefully see people make a decision for Christ. The missional church focuses on the other 6 days of the week, many times neglecting Sunday along the way, to make sure that life is being done with everyone in the church and community.

Acts 2:41 – So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

But if we look at Scripture, we find that the first century church was both missional and attractional.

I am clearly more missional than attractional in mentality, but that wasn’t always the case. There were days that I would gauge the success of our church by the people who filled the pews. And there still are days that I do that, depending on what we are doing as a church.

Atrractional churches, many claim, are not biblical. But that is clearly not the case. Why wouldn’t Jesus care about basic numbers? There is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to numbers (called Numbers). And in Luke 15, Jesus is so in touch with all of his people that He knows when even one is missing.

Since the days of the Old Testament, God has been in the business of attracting people to Him. Exodus 19:5-6 talks about the city on a hill that the Gentiles would come toward. Isaiah 2:2 describes that Gentiles would be attracted to God’s Jerusalem to worship when they saw God’s glory coming from His people.

1 Kings 10:9 – Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”

1 Kings 10:5-9 is probably the best example of this with Queen Sheba becoming overwhelmed and praising God after traveling miles just because she was attracted to the holy place to worship. Even the Jewish temple was constructed for all nations. In Isaiah 56:7 tells us that the temple was constructed as a “house of prayer for all nations.”

Even in the New Testament, where we like to think that everything is about “go and tell,” we still see a lot of “come and see.” Jesus again speaks about the city on a hill that does good works that is seen by all. And in 1 Peter, the author quotes Exodus and talks about us living in such a way that others would COME to us and ask a reason for our faith. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul explains that unbelievers will come and have their hearts laid bare and they will fall down and worship God.

Even the creator of the missional movement, Leslie Newbigin, said that the book of Acts is basically a bunch of people gathering to ask believers, “Can you explain Christianity?” and then someone answering that question for them. That is attractional. People come, see, stay, ask, and learn.

Every time we see Jesus He was attracting large crowds of people to Him. He did this because of how He and His disciples lived out their lives in the community. Acts 2:42-47 says that the unbelievers were amazed even at how they spoke. It wasn’t only the lifestyle they lived, but the way they worshiped.

Missional churches view the Gospel as “go and tell.” The building is simply there to provide a common place for believers to come and get recharged before heading back out into the world to go on mission.

In the Old Testament, where the Jewish people were to be set apart so that others would come and see the glory of God through them, we see a lot of examples where the Old Testament people go on mission. Obadiah and Nahum are books written about living life on mission. And even Jonah, who fell into adversity for trying to hide and lie to God after God commanded him to go on mission.

When the Jews were sent into exile, prophets such as Daniel and Jeremiah were used to help the Israelites understand that they were to testify to God’s grace as they were in exile. Daniel even uses his role in the government of Babylon to help the king understand the God alone can save.

Peter explains the idea of exile even more in the New Testament and describes it as the primary identity of the church today. Even though Peter talks about the attraction of Jesus and the church, he also goes on to say that we are to give an answer to EVERYONE about the reasons for the hope we have.

And, of course, there is no greater missional verse than that of the Great Commission. We are to GO and MAKE disciples of all the nations.

Acts 2:17 – “‘In the last days, God says,  I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Acts 2:17 tells us that the Spirit of God was poured out on all and that even our sons and daughters would prophesy. Imagine being a Jew hearing that! Prophecy was relegated to a few select people in Old Testament times. But now to hear that this was available to ALL?!? That was a rock-your-world moment!

In the New Testament, we see that the ministry moves away from a few leaders who are specialized in certain ways to the average Joe. Ordinary people are tasked with carrying out the mission of the church, not only the leaders. Of the 40 miracles that happen in the Book of Acts, 39 of them take place OUTSIDE the church. This tells me that the main place God wants people to see His glory is outside the church.

When you ask the average Christian when they felt closest to God, they will probably describe a moment in the worship music that they were driven to tears or that one sermon where they felt convicted. While those are great moments for sure, the fact remains that most of what God wants to do is going to be done outside the church by ordinary people, not inside the church by specialized leaders.

The one place you didn’t see the apostles a lot in the Book of Acts was in the church. Just like Jesus, the apostles took the message outside the “4 walls” to the everyday people.

And this is our calling. To know Jesus is to be sent by Jesus.

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