CEDAR HILL, Texas (BP) -- Annie Falconer is an active 74-year-old who likes to stay busy. She is director of the Good News Clubs for children in her community. But after attending an Embrace conference, she knew there was more she could do.
"I may not be as active as I would like, due to health, but there are a lot of things I can sit and do," she said.
Falconer and seven other members of Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville, Texas, attended the IMB-sponsored Embrace event, a starting point for churches willing to explore the challenge of taking the Gospel to the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs).
"I need to do more than just one thing, and I was especially interested in the way IMB is reaching out in Central Asia to people from all of these countries who are our neighbors here in Texas, too," Falconer said. "... I still have a great desire to be involved in missions -- not only across the street but around the world."
"The fact that you're here this morning tells us something radical could and, perhaps, is happening," IMB President Tom Elliff told the 320 Southern Baptists in attendance, representing 130 churches from 19 states, at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas.
"It seems God has just breathed a fresh wind of his Spirit and is blessing what seems to be becoming a movement," Elliff said of the Embrace strategy by which churches "evangelize and disciple authentically through discipleship that produces reproducing churches."
"We want to be careful to give Him honor and glory, with an understanding that God is sovereign and we're His bond slaves," Elliff said. "We serve Him and serve one another as well so that other people can hear this wonderful announcement that Jesus saves."
Elliff and Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., issued a challenge at the annual SBC meeting this past June for Southern Baptist churches to commit to "embrace" 3,800 UUPGs by next year's annual meeting in New Orleans. An upcoming meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) will encourage Texas churches to embrace at least 1,000 of that number during a Nov. 15 missions focus in Irving.
Wright shared how Johnson Ferry had been transformed as mission endeavors became "the most spiritually impactful ministry" in the past 20 years.
"This year we'll have about 40 percent of our Sunday morning attendance going on 75 mission trips to 30 nations around the world," Wright said. "It's not because we're constantly pleading and badgering the people to go. It's just been a God thing in the life of the church when people get outside their comfort zone and begin to go into a culture that is different to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Wright pointed to a new model that no longer relies entirely on the International Mission Board to send personnel to areas around the world as churches merely support and pray for them. Instead, he said, "the new paradigm in international missions is the churches coming to the forefront and stepping out to take on this responsibility where IMB is the facilitator, the trainer, the one that connects us all."
He commended a local denominational model, stating, "I can't think of anything that is gonna fire up churches in Texas about giving to the Cooperative Program like what has happened here," praising SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards for challenging Southern Baptist churches in Texas to adopt 1,000 UUPGs and giving $1 million from SBTC reserve funds to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Wright also spoke of the missionary focus of host church Hillcrest Baptist, which adopted an unreached people group (UPG) two years ago and now plans to embrace a UUPG after receiving training at the Oct. 27 event.
A missionary who works with European peoples explained IMB's role in the new paradigm Wright referenced.
"Part of this process is not so much you partnering with us, but us coming alongside and saying, 'We bring all of our resources, everything we have to the table,'" the IMB leader said. "How can we help you take the Gospel to the people God has called you to?"
He and other conference leaders emphasized the importance of taking time to discern God's direction before embracing a specific unengaged, unreached people group.
"Do not go beyond this point with your church until the Lord has made it clear 'this is the people to whom I am sending you,'" the missionary said. "Anything else will not last.
"The leadership of your church will come and go, people will come and go, but the church says, 'Our church continues to be called by God to this people group.'"
Embracing a people group is more than just signing on a dotted line," a Southern Baptist worker from South Asia added. "It's a commitment to seeing the Gospel flow through that community regardless of the cost," he said, describing the geographic, financial, cultural and political challenges.
However, some of the solutions to those challenges "sit in your congregations, your seminaries, your Bible schools and your homes," he added. "All of a sudden you get this business person in your church who says, 'That's not a challenge. We could start a business there,' and it gives us open access to a people group."
The next Embrace conferences are scheduled for Nov. 4 at Applewood Baptist Church in Denver and March 24 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. For more information about unengaged, unreached people groups, go to call2embrace.org
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news director of the Southern Baptist Texan (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.