This past weekend, I spent time with some of the great folks in the Southeastern Region of the Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS). Each year, the EMS meets in regions across the United States and Canada to hear presentations on a designated topic affecting contemporary missions. This year’s theme was on the topic of urban missions.
I had a great time sharing my research with these brothers and sisters, and hearing their presentations as well. When I presented, they were all gracious. No one started throwing anything at me or decided to go Jerry Springer.
The title of my paper that was presented was “Examining Evangelical Concentrations and International Migrations in the U. S. and Canada: A Call for More and Better Urban Research.” I want to take the next posts to share with you what I presented.
The Reality of the Fog
We live in an urban fog. For the most part, we do missions without knowledge. The Church may have a great zeal to reach others with the gospel and plant churches–but zeal with ignorance is not healthy for the Kingdom. The writer of Proverbs reminds us, “desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov 19:2, ESV).
Consider the following: We have better data on an unreached people group living on the backside of the Himalayas than we do on that same people group living across the street from us in New York, Toronto, Chicago, or Montreal.
Such is an extremely pathetic reality and reflective of much of the missiology that drives missions in North America.
Research is not the answer for all of our problems. God’s leading is not limited by our ignorance. However, we do see in His economy, that He often does use research to advance the gospel.
History, Research, and Evangelicals
Until the mid-twentieth century, Evangelicals were not too keen on missiological research that guided the development of strategy and methods. Sure, we did have important moments in our history when research launched a movement. For example, William Carey’s An Enquiry was based on research and the reporting of data reflecting global realities. Protestant missions were forever changed as a result.
For the most part, regular and intentional research was not valued by most Evangelicals.
In the mid-sixties, more than a few trustees at Fuller Theological Seminary raised eyebrows in concern when they met the first dean of the school of world mission and heard his presentation related to global evangelization that included numbers, figures, charts and graphs. However, Donald McGavran’s missiology would eventually convince them and others that the Church can have solid research and not be in contradiction to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
McGavran launched the Church Growth Movement as a result of his research in India.
At the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, Evangelicals got a new dose of the importance of missiological research when Ralph Winter took to the platform. His presentation, “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism,” launched a movement that worked to identify, understand, and develop strategies to reach the unreached peoples. Today, Evangelicals sit around their dinner tables and in coffee shops talking about UPGs.
And while Evangelicals have come to embrace a missiology that not only supports research outside of North America but also expects it, we in the United States and Canada–once again–are woefully behind the times, not realizing the value of missiological research here. And as I will share in the posts to come, ignorance over here hinders missions over there.
What I Hope to Share
In these next posts, my desire is to share with you the major limitations in two of my recent research projects, one related to the evangelical concentrations in the United States and Canada, and the other in my forthcoming book The Strangers Next Door: Global Migrations and the Great Commission Opportunity for You and Your Church (Biblica, March 2012). By revealing my limitations, I hope to provide better evidence for why Evangelicals must be doing more and better missiological research especially in urban contexts. I will conclude this series with four suggestions to move us forward when it comes to studying our metro areas. Stay tuned.
I’m curious. Would more and better urban research help you and your ministry? If so, how?