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4 Ways Immigration Impacts the Church Mission

Immigration impacts the church mission because it is changing how churches think about mission and outreach in North America, and rightly so.

Immigration impacts the church mission because it is changing how churches think about mission and outreach in North America, and rightly so.

People are slowly waking up to the new cultural landscape that surrounds them—a landscape that offers new opportunities for sharing the gospel, but also new challenges to consider.

While there isn’t space in this blog post to propose and unpack all the issues, I think it’s valuable to examine four ways immigration impacts the church and its call to share the gospel with all peoples.

At its simplest, migration is the movement of peoples. Immigration is the movement of people into a place (the opposite is emigration). In this case, I am referring (at times) to migration in general, but in the U.S. and Canadian context, we are primarily dealing with immigration.

First, Immigration Impacts the Church Mission Because It Puts Faces on Lost People of Different Races and Contexts

In the early 1900s, the population of the United States was largely made up of people of Western and Northern European descent.

Christians would hear of the “masses” in Asia, for example, who are lost without Christ. They would then form stereotypes—really caricatures—about what non-Christian people overseas were like.

Migration changes the way we view the humanity of people.

Churches in North America sought to bring the gospel to those Asians living apart from Christ. But without many Asian neighbors, Christians perceived of a lost world through the lens of ignorance.

Now, “the masses” are not over there, but they are here. And they are often kind and gracious people—not the caricatures of a century earlier.

For example, I have a Syrian Muslim neighbor just a few houses down from me. My kids play with their kids. We’ve walked the neighborhood together.

Not long ago, my daughter asked, using her words, how we know that “we’re right” and “Islam is wrong.” (It was the kind of question a girl should ask her father.) I talked about the gospel of grace and about religions of works-righteousness.

One hundred, 50 or even 25 years ago she could only have imagined “hordes of lost people” who need the gospel—people she would never see or know.

Now she knows Syrian Muslims by name because they live in our neighborhood. Rather than seeing “them” as far away, she wants to know why our kind neighbors need the gospel, when she probably would not ask that a century ago.

Immigration helps us to know people as people, not as stereotypes or caricatures.

However, that also impacts our evangelistic task.

Second, Immigration Impacts the Church Mission for Evangelistic Willingness

Immigration puts a face on those we are called to reach, which makes evangelism more complicated.

And as it turns out, many non-Christians—particularly devout people of other religions—are pretty nice once you get to know them! They are not “people over there living in darkness,” but they are our neighbors living in our community. They are people—and not projects.

In short, migration changes the way we view the humanity of people. That’s good, when we are moving beyond caricatures.

It also makes evangelism more complicated.

Sometimes we fail to see that people—immigrants included—still need Jesus.

Immigration becomes an evangelistic opportunity when it gives us a love for immigrants as human beings (without caricature) and teaches us to have compassion for them (including their spiritual condition), as we would for anyone in need of the gospel.

Yet, and here is the complicated part, it may also talk some out of evangelizing those who, perhaps, we think are not in as much need as we thought. In other words, immigration can and does impact evangelistic willingness.

We also have to be willing to think through the questions my daughter was really asking: “How do we know the gospel is true for everyone?” And, “Does everyone really need Jesus?”

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.